There’s no doubt that the pandemic has been hard for the U.K. travel industry. With a forecasted cumulative drop of $3 trillion in global tourism, there’s still a way to go to return to 2019 levels — but marketers can now plan for clearer skies ahead.
In the U.K., search demand for travel is up by as much as 270% on last year. This is a figure that's likely to rise higher so long as people can travel safely.1
Here, we share the latest search insights from Google and the actions travel marketers can take to plan for recovery and growth.
Search data indicates pent-up demand for travel
With ongoing uncertainty around international travel, demand and destination popularity can change in an instant. But as restrictions ease, we are already seeing a considerable upswing in travel-related searches.
When the U.K. government announced its travel “green list” in early May, interest in countries considered safe for travel at that time skyrocketed. For example, searches for “flights to Portugal” shot up overnight.
Domestically, the picture is positive too. Most European countries are seeing search interest in local destinations as a whole far outpace that for international travel. For instance, as restrictions have lifted, search interest for places to stay within the U.K. has risen by over 75%.2
This data — coupled with a substantial rise in average U.K. household savings among high-income, middle-income, and retiree groups during the pandemic — suggests that latent demand for travel is high. When restrictions allow them to do so, these consumers will have significant resources at their disposal to spend on going away.
As travel returns, consumer needs and concerns are shifting
For marketers, it’s important to recognise that, as consumers begin to spend on travel again, it won’t be business as usual.
New traveller behaviours and trends have emerged, as people moved from a reactionary pandemic mindset to one that plans ahead for ongoing restrictions and changing concerns.
Travel companies are already seeing a surge in advance bookings for trips later in the year, while consumer preferences around what people want from holidays are changing. Beach holidays are back, but demand for city breaks by U.K consumers is yet to return to 2019 levels. Globally, search interest for outdoor activities such as kayaking and summer camps is rocketing.
British travellers are also favouring short-term rentals over hotel stays, especially in larger establishments. Meanwhile, global operators are reporting a shift towards more expensive bookings, often for large homes or villas for entire families.
Travellers are looking for inspiration online
Consumers increasingly seek inspiration and ideas online to help them decide where to go. This provides a growing opportunity to win business by providing helpful interventions at the right point in the purchase journey.
There are two key openings. The first is fluctuating restrictions that prompt travellers to consider new destinations. And the second one is people spending more time researching “dream trips” — potentially rolling over last year’s holiday fund to embark on more luxurious or adventurous getaways.
When it comes to deciding where to go, consumers increasingly seek inspiration and ideas online.
We see these attitudinal shifts play out in the wider rise of U.K. search interest around terms like “where to travel to”, as well as the huge surge in views of YouTube travel-related content.3
Brands that are present and can inspire in the places where travellers are looking to explore and discover will be in the strongest position to capture demand as people go back to doing what they love.
3 strategic steps for travel industry recovery and growth
These changes should inform how the travel industry charts a path to a successful recovery and plans ahead for long-term change. Businesses can help drive this turnaround with three key steps.
1. Monitor and respond to fast-moving travel trends
Travel-related search data allows marketers to get a real-time view of evolving behaviours and shifting demands. It is crucial in understanding which changes are a product of the pandemic and which are here to stay.
Google’s new Destination Insights and Hotel Insights tools bring travel data together in one place. They help you monitor and compare trends and inform your decision-making when it comes to messaging and services.
2. Implement different strategies for different audiences
Recognise that consumers are responding to ongoing volatility around case rates and restrictions in different ways. Some people are booking for now and the shorter term, some for later in the year, and some are taking time to research bigger trips for the future.
Ensure you have a media strategy to fit. For example, use performance marketing to reach those “in market” and looking to book now, but dovetail this with a brand campaign to engage audiences looking for ideas or intending to make decisions at a later date.
3. Automate campaigns and creative to cater for unpredictable demand
Marketers should consider using automated tools such as Google Ads Smart Bidding and Smart Creatives to help tap into unpredictable demand. They optimise bids in real time, reduce the time spent on campaign maintenance, and automatically generate, test, and adapt messages in order to react quickly to uneven and unpredictable demand.