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.
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