Written by Matt Carroll
Travel brands are caught between a rock and a hard place right now. Battered by the global ‘shut-down’ that’s left holes in balance sheets, while simultaneously facing consumer demand on an unprecedented scale. So how are you going to market to people, when you can’t afford to market?
Answer: find a smarter way…
As a travel journalist ‘in my bones’ – having spent two decades writing for outlets including Nat Geo Traveller, The Independent and others – it’s been tough witnessing the onslaught the industry has suffered during the pandemic. But there are undeniable signs of hope on the horizon. Over 50% of UK citizens have now been vaccinated, overseas travel is slated to recommence on May 17th and EU proposals are underway for vaccine passports. Combined with this, are reports from economists that record-level savings are ready to be unleashed by house-bound consumers desperate to escape. The dam is ready to burst.
With the post-pandemic mist now beginning to clear, it’s time to start focusing on forthcoming consumer demand
But the question I hear repeatedly from travel clients and colleagues – the billion-pound question – is how do we tap into this pent-up demand when our marketing budgets have been crushed?
What’s more, constantly-shifting travel bans mean that consumer demand for destinations is changing from month to month – so you need to be more reactive than ever before with the content you’re putting out.
Put simply, you can’t afford to spend months planning campaigns that may be out of date by the time they’re signed off. Then there’s the challenge of flying crews and creators out to locations, in a world that’s rigged with travel bans, quarantine rules and other tripwires.
Nevertheless, some operators are reporting bookings spikes of 500% since the start of this year, so how are you going to ensure you don’t miss out?
Picture the scene – with a global network of friends in all the right places, you can have crews of makers turning round campaigns in a matter of weeks…
How to harness the post-pandemic uplift
Despite all the change and upheaval we’ve experienced over the last 12-plus months, one thing has remained constant. We as consumers still dream of escape, and are desperate to engage with content that fuels those dreams. What’s more, millions of us are now poised with our fingers over the ‘Book’ button – a well-timed video or Insta’ post being all it takes to tip the balance.
Pre-pandemic, campaigns were planned months in advance. Now the key lies in being able to generate a strategy, nail down the creative and get assets shots and delivered – all in a matter of weeks. Because if you don’t, your competitors will.
So what are your options? The most obvious is to repurpose material you created pre-pandemic – reheating the ‘one you prepared earlier’ – which can be turned round quickly and efficiently, avoiding the need to ship people off on location. The watch-out here is that anything pre-covid will be easily identifiable as such – e.g. people not wearing masks or not social distancing immediately signalling to the audience that this is out of date, and therefore not credible. Meanwhile, avoid people in your shots and you fall into the trap of churning out glorified b-roll that has people instantly clicking ‘skip’.
On set with local &FRIENDS crew in South Africa, filming for a TV spot just before lockdown
Alternatively, you could approach influencers – there are hordes of ‘digital nomads’ roaming the world with cameras, ready-made audiences and the ability to upload in a matter of days (often hours). But what’s the strategy? Not only that, but how will you manage them and ensure consistency – and how will they represent your brand?
Instead, what you really need is the best of both: a solid strategy – built around your business objectives, by people with industry-specific expertise – combined with premium quality creative direction and boots-on-the-ground makers in your key destinations. All of which you can switch ‘on’ as and when needed. This will ensure you can react to consumer demand, and start filling the hole in your balance sheet, without committing a huge investment.
A lean crew of local Friends, on the ground in Slovenia – filming a travel series for National Geographic and Slovenia Tourism
Think and act like a publisher
The key to winning this battle for bookings lies in adopting a publisher mindset – turning potential travellers into your own personal audience, who are inspired by what you show them, trust what you say, and act accordingly. That way you won’t need to shout above the noise of your competitors, because people will already be listening.
It’s what media outlets I write for (including Nat Geo Traveller, The Telegraph and many others) have been doing for decades – and why Instagrammers and vloggers are so successful in influencing consumer behaviour.
Here at &FRIENDS we take a similarly editorial approach to content creation. Rather than flying crews all over the planet, we have a global community of specialists in the field – film-makers, photographers and writers – in over 100 countries. All of them are experts in the travel space, trained in our ways of working and connected with their local communities – ensuring they uncover the stories that matter (rather than churning out travel wallpaper that feels a bit ‘meh’).
Briefed by us – managed through our proprietary platform and onboarded into your brand – they become a readymade global team that you can switch on when (and where) needed. So if your data shows a build-up of interest in the Balearics or Australia – at the same time! – you can turn round destination campaigns targeted to capture that demand before it dissipates.
The difference between surviving, recovering and coming out swinging lies in your ability to serve up the right content, in the right place, at the right time – whatever travel bans and quarantines get thrown at you. All it requires is some smarter thinking, and smarter ways of working.