Dreaming of a Brighter Future: How travel marketers can offer inspiration during uncertain times

By: Noreen Henry, Chief Revenue Officer at Sojern

Just a few short weeks ago the economy was booming, people were traveling, and the future was bright. Then, faster than we ever could have imagined, everything changed. Due to COVID-19 fears and restrictions, flights are grounded, industries halted, and many businesses are shuttering their doors. Nearly 17 million people filed for unemployment benefits in three weeks between mid-March and early April, due to many restaurants, bars, and other gathering spots being forced to close. It’s truly unprecedented, and many consumers are unsure of how to pay their bills, let alone book travel.

However, even in times like these, there’s something magical about travel. From visiting family to finally seeing that Instagram-worthy destination, having something to look forward to--even without a confirmed booking in hand--has the power to get people through today. By adjusting plans and focusing on giving consumers reasons to dream, travel marketers can offer solace while we wait for the situation to improve.

It’s time to encourage and inspire dreaming

With workplaces closed and shelter-in-place orders issued around the globe, many people are hunkered down in their homes. With no in-person social or professional outlets, they’re looking for a way to virtually escape. For travel marketers, this is a golden opportunity to take consumers on a digital journey. It’s the time to show new and exciting places and tell great stories.

According to a recent report from Skift, 68 percent of storytellers say that the most important thing to consider when creating content is to tell stories that resonate emotionally. It’s those emotional connections that will carry consumers through this difficult time and build relationships with brands that last far beyond the pandemic. That said, this is the time to focus on the relationship; not the booking. Many consumers are in no position to travel for the foreseeable future, so now is the time to encourage them to dream. A great example is this recent campaign from Portugal. By offering viewers an emotional glimpse of the country, it’s planting the seeds for future bookings.

Travelers are showing intent - just closer to home

While airline travel may be off the table for the time being, consumers are still indicating intent to travel. The catch? They’re looking closer to home. Even when restrictions are lifted, many travelers will be hesitant to board planes or take longer trips. In addition, some may want to invest in their local economies to support attractions and businesses that may have suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to recent Sojern data, 37 percent of potential travelers are looking at destinations between 0-100 miles from home, compared to 25 percent at the same time last year. The best short-term strategy is to emphasize drive markets because these will be the easiest--and safest--vacations once the restrictions are lifted. Offer up tailored, local suggestions to encourage economic boosts closer to home.

Take the long view

Consumers may not be booking travel right now, but they certainly are researching. In just the last week flight searches have increased exponentially because of the drastic drop in flight prices. As consumer confidence returns, many travelers will be looking at the back half of 2020 to fulfill their travel dreams. For travel marketers, now is the time to lay the right groundwork to be there when they’re ready to book.

Given that revenue has decreased, it may be tempting to push travelers to book now using traditional terms and conditions. However, in the midst of economic uncertainty, the key to driving bookings is to offer additional flexibility. By giving additional cancellation options or even offering value add services, such as resort credits, travel marketers can encourage travelers to book today for future stays. By coming alongside potential travelers and focusing on flexibility, it’s possible to reap future benefits while giving travelers the peace of mind they need.

Travel is aspirational, exciting, and inspirational all at the same time. It has the power to tell stories, evoke emotion, and give people a sense of hope even in dark times. By encouraging people to dream, travel marketers can offer a small slice of sunshine each and every day.

Noreen Henry is the Chief Revenue Officer at Sojern