What travel marketers need to know to navigate the path forward

Rob Torres, Celine Youssef / July 2020
Illustrated people with rolling luggage wait in line at an airport check-in counter. They stand at a safe distance apart, their hands connected by a thin black line to the woman behind the counter.

While the coronavirus pandemic has affected every major industry, it’s no surprise the impact on travel has been significant. In fact, a recent study reveals that 90% of global travel marketers have slashed their marketing budgets. And, as both business and leisure travel were brought to a standstill, many brands were forced to downsize. But as businesses start to turn the lights back on and consumers begin to regain confidence, there are two key considerations travel marketers are weighing: how to know when to reopen and what the new normal for travel will look like.

Across the globe, the balance between consumer safety and the economic impact on travel remains a struggle. But actions taken now to prepare for the recovery may impact the ability of businesses to survive. With that in mind, we’ve identified travel trends, insights, and strategic steps marketers can apply to their road map to help navigate the path forward.

How to know when to reopen

There are many factors to assess in deciding when to reopen or resume operations, not least of which is the consumer’s appetite to do so. Google’s community mobility reports can help you understand these dynamics in your market.

The reports are broken down by location and display the change in visits to retail and recreation, groceries and pharmacies, parks, transit stations, workplaces, and residential areas.

Using trends to see what travel’s new normal may look like

The pandemic has caused huge shifts in consumer behaviour. Some shifts may be temporary, such as increases in people trying to cancel their flights or finding out if their flights were canceled. In fact, in the MENA region, we saw “cancel flight” queries increase by +259% in March 2020 when compared to January of this year.1 As countries begin to open, we are seeing these numbers start to decline.

However, other shifts are likely to change how we travel far into the future. For instance, searches related to “virtual tour” have grown by 350% in the MENA region since the beginning of March,2 suggesting people may prefer an alternative to in-person tours until they feel safe.

Also, as we saw in April, 25% to 35% of consumers’ first trips will be to nearby destinations, such as staycations or places within driving distance.4 Among those who indicated they would be willing to consider travel in the next three months, 50% said they would most likely choose a beach destination or a small town, where it’s easier to maintain social distance.5 In fact, specifically in MENA, searches related to “staycation” have grown by over 400% since the beginning of March.3

Why safety is the new necessity

We also know that flexibility and safety are now table stakes, with the industry moving to be less strict with fees for changes and cancellations and more focused on enhanced, hospital-grade cleaning. In the recent Traveler Intent survey, among those who indicated they would be willing to consider staying in a hotel in the next three months, 32% said “enhanced, hospital-grade cleaning of hotels” would make them most likely to book a stay.7

We also know that flexibility and safety are now table stakes.

What steps to take now

Megaphone and message bubble: 1. Take action early. Browser window overlaid with points on a line graph: 2. Track leading indicators. Computer chip overlaid with growth indicator arrow: 3. Accelerate digital transformation.

In this moment, it is critical to lean in to consumer expectations and prioritise accordingly.

  • Take action early. Address shifts in consumer behaviour by automating your marketing. This enables you to address demand in real time.
  • Track leading indicators. Start tracking key indicators outside of travel, such as searches for restaurants, gyms, and movie theaters. Integrate that information with your own first-party data to better prepare for an increase in demand.
  • Accelerate digital transformation. Put data at the center of your operations to make your business more flexible and adaptable.

Now more than ever, it’s important to remain aware, agile, and adaptable to shifting consumer needs. While we can’t say for certain when travel will pick back up, we do know that people will indicate when they are ready, and staying focused will be critical to a successful recovery.

Rob Torres

Rob Torres

Industry Director, Travel at Google
Celine Youssef

Celine Youssef

Retail Ads Marketing

Sources (7)

1 Google Trends, AE/SA/EG, January 2020 vs. March 2020

2 Google Trends, AE/SA/EG, March 2020 - August 2020

3 Google Trends, AE/SA/EG, March 2020 - July 2020

5,7 Google Surveys, U.S., “COVID-19 & Travel Intent,” n = 551 respondents who indicated they would be willing to consider travel in the next three months, July 2020.

6 Google Data, Global English, May 6, 2020–July 4, 2020 vs. May 6, 2019–July 4, 2019.