The travel industry has been hit, as expected, particularly hard during the world’s pandemic. Hotel closures and flight cancellations forced businesses to not only resort to furloughs and layoffs, they also forced reduced advertising spend or a complete pause on advertising.
The closures and pandemic brought the industry, including flight and hotel reservations, to a halt. As the days in quarantine wore on, however, those in quarantine eager to get free, began to search for hopeful travel opportunities once the quarantine was lifted. A mixture of restlessness, hope and business needs led to an increase in travel related searches over the month of April.
The query “when will travel restrictions be lifted” grew by 1,100% on Google over the last 30 days, according to Google Trends. “When can we travel again” grew by 500%. “Can I travel across state lines” grew by 450%. “Are hotels safe during COVID” increased by 3,200%, followed by “Are hotels open right now”, at a growth of 1,350%. “5-star hotels near me” jumped by 120% showing intent of travelers to begin, at the very least, to start planning trips within driving distance.
As hotels look to reinstate or grow their PPC advertising spend it is important to execute a well-planned strategy.
Hotels and airlines need to be ready to address meeting the mental health needs of the first waves of both corporate and leisure travelers. This might mean communicating changes in services that may help travelers feel at ease (e.g. twice/day room cleaning, delivery service from nearby restaurants, free hand sanitizer w/ check-in, providing masks etc.). Hotels and airlines need to include messaging in ads and landing pages regarding flexible cancellations policies while gently addressing sensitive travel topics. This messaging case study with Iceland Air, completed by Hanapin Marketing, shows “remaining diligent to reach customers needing their services helped Icelandair to sell flights and generate revenue despite the travel-restricted environment. While the travel industry will continue to be impacted for the duration of the virus, keeping up brand awareness will help Icelandair in the long-term.”
Customers need to be assured at this time that their travel plans are flexible and if the unexpected continues, their money is safe. Any offers, reopening dates or booking starting dates should also be clear in messaging. Verbiage such as “we’re here when you’re ready” or “when you travel again” acknowledge the climate we are in while reassuring the customer you’re preparing for their arrival.
Things may not return to normal in travel as the impact that current events may have on travelers includes their mental health. Companies should focus on reassurance, travel safety and security.
Location Targeting Strategy
The hotel industry does not typically need to focus on refined location targeting. If you are a hotel in Manhattan and open up your targeting to the entire United States, for example, you are reaching travelers from across the country who are looking for a room in your city. Refined location targeting is now a valuable consideration, during the reopening phases, as travelers may initially be more likely to look for destinations with driving distance. Strategize to target sizable geographic locations within 3-4 hours of driving distance to your hotels. A hotel in Nashville, for example, may choose to target Nashville (for staycations), Louisville, Atlanta and St. Louis.
Keyword Research and Strategy
The travel industry may find itself needing to rethink its keyword strategy during this time. Hotels near me may have been too broad of a keyword to target in the past, especially without refined location targeting, but is now the most popular search term, in many areas, for travelers looking to plan their next weekend getaway. There is also an opportunity to bid on keywords at a potential lower cost-per-click as competitors ease their way back into the auction. Google’s Keyword Planner can assist you in your research to determine which keywords you should keep and which you should add during this time. You can look at search volume and forecasts to look at your current keywords to see their projected performance in this new environment, as you use the Keyword Planner to discover new keywords.
Go-To-Market Timeframes and Strategy for Hotels
The hotel industry should not wait until their hotels are open, or just about to open, to reenter PPC. As stay-at-home orders and travel restrictions show signs of easing up, customers are already searching for their next vacation, even if it is just a few hours away. A minimum of 2 weeks prior to reopening is recommended for the hotel industry while a full 30-60 days is ideal. The campaigns need time to not only reach an active audience with intent, they need time for platforms to learn and optimize their campaigns. It is not the ideal time to remained paused in marketing and travel businesses need to get re-involved now or risk causing their future market share to be largely decreased. Hotel owners can utilize top of funnel awareness campaigns with or without a firm re-open date for their hotel(s). These awareness campaigns can then drive retargeting campaigns focused on conversions. This is not the time to solely focus on bookings; driving traffic to a hotel’s website should be a main goal as well.
5 tips for building customer trust during the supply chain crisis
The supply chain crisis continues, partly caused by COVID-19, partly exacerbated by war in Europe, and beyond the capacity of marketers to solve. The Brooks Group is a sales management, training and consulting firm. “We work with sales organizations, primarily B2B, to help them equip their teams with effective processes and the right sales skills,” said VP of sales performance research Michelle Richardson.
We spoke to Richardson and her colleague Russ Sharer, director of strategic sales excellence, about some lessons they’re teaching sales organizations, not least in their recently published book “Agile & Resilient: Sales Leadership for the New Normal.” The advice is good for marketing organizations too.
Positive strategies to build trust. Richardson and Sharer are offering advice to their clients which they agree is good advice for marketing organizations too.
- Be transparent. “Make sure that when you are dealing with customers you are updated them along the way in terms of what’s happening,” said Richardson.”If you have product delays, let them know there are product delays – be clear in communicating that.”
- Be proactive. “Reach out when you have new information,” said Sharer. Some dealers find it difficult to have repeated conversations about problems with manufacturing or delivery. Sharer’s question for them: “If a manufacturer knew a delivery was delayed, when would you want to know?” The answer, of course, is immediately. “Well why wouldn’t you do the same for your customer? While it may be painful at that moment, you are building a reservoir of trust that will ultimately benefit you.”
- Build trust. “In order for someone to do business with you, they have to trust both the individual they’re dealing with and the organization too,” said Sharer.
- Have empathy. Not just with your customer, but with your employees. Dealing with frustrated customers day after day wears down employees on the front line. Sharer tells the story of a CEO who was asked to spend an hour or two taking customer calls to better understand the situation. His reponse? “’I’m not going down there. Do you know the kind of grief those people are taking?’That right there says a leadership vacuum as well as an issue.”
- Accept there’s a new normal. “I worked with a guy one time who joked, never confuse selling and delivery,” said Sharer. “Always get the order, then figure out how to fill it. That’s old school to me. If you make a commitment and miss it, people are just going to go somewhere else.
The state of the crisis. “Some of our clients are in the professional services business, but most of our customers have real physical products that they deliver – industrial manufacturing and distributing, medical devices, agro-chemicals,” said Sharer. “They’re seeing the supply chain issue up close.”
COVID is still driving many of the problems with ports in Shanghai and other parts of China still dysfunctional. “I wouldn’t put COVID in the past,” Sharer said. The situation in Ukraine is not yet causing supply shortages (with the exception of food — it’s a major grain exporter) but it is having an impact through fuel shortages causing additional price increases in transportation.
“The other piece,” said Richardson, “is that it adds uncertainty, unrest and upheaval, and that certainly can impact business’s outlook – how they view and mitigate risk.”
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Why we care. Delivering on commitments, or being transparent about it if you can’t, is an essential element of providing a great customer experience. Marketing, sales and customer success teams may be downstream from manufacturing, but supply chain issues can leave them in the lurch, like Wile E. Coyote, running on thin air.
The experience we’ve had as consumers over the last two or more years, increasingly buying online, has raised our expectations across the board — including when making considered, often expensive business purchases. B2B needs to learn how to live with supply chain challenges, many of which are not easily tractable. “I’d like to say this is going to be the last crisis,” said Sharer, “but I’d be willing to bet you it’s not.” We didn’t take the bet.
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