The travel and hospitality industry has been one of the hardest hit this year. What advice have you been providing to your clients regarding their communications?
2020 has been a year unlike any other and has impacted almost every industry. That said, we have seen the most significant impacts to business as usual standards among our travel industry clients – OTA’s in particular. As the pandemic hit the US in full force in March, followed quickly by lockdowns of various degrees on state and local levels, business took an immediate hit. This gave us an important opportunity to act as business partners, rather than a traditional agency, and advise our clients to be and remain as flexible and nimble as possible. This advice did not just pertain to our standard remit in terms of flexibility and cancelation options built into media placement, but also in terms of how to view their business moving forward. As s an agency that is built on delivering the best possible Media Experience and has invested in and investigated what we call Meaningful Media, we do not believe that all impressions are created equal.
How flexible could they be in bringing new offerings to market to help customers in these unprecedented times, how nimbly could they pivot to find new ways to connect and create a meaningful dialogue with their customers in times when they may not be looking to travel, and most importantly how could prepare ahead of time to be able to quickly and efficiently capitalize on any resurgence – however small – in new “travel” behavior. Flexibility – in offerings, communications, and content – was key to ensuring our Travel clients were not only surviving the unprecedented times, but also creating deeper, more meaningful connections with their customers to ensure they come out of this in as optimal position as possible.
How have your clients adapted to our new global circumstances? How are they communicating reassurances to consumers who do want to travel?
Our OTA clients have adapted to the new global environment in two ways.
First, they looked at the downturn in bookings and day-to-day site utilization in a glass-half-full manner as best as possible and utilized the time to focus on their business. They utilized the time to optimize processes, streamline business operations, and reevaluate each business units offerings and unique points of differentiation. This allowed them to rebuild and reposition their offerings in an unexpected and efficient manner. Ultimately, this allowed them and will allow them to better serve their consumers, delivering more targeted offers specifically for each group of travelers and providing more real-time service and meaningful solutions.
While the majority of this work is internal and will not be seen by end users – travelers looking to book trips – the end benefit has made its way into consumer facing communication. They are not pushing consumers to travel “now,” or “book immediately” in their above the line mass messaging. Rather, they are reassuring these travelers that – when they are ready and comfortable with the thought traveling, on their terms – our clients are now ready, and more prepared than ever, to help them on their journey. This approach has also been guided by Havas Media’s unique Mx process that uses connection, context and content to create the most meaningful experience for a consumer.
Is there any opportunity for travel and hospitality brands to innovate?
A major pandemic and subsequent global economic crisis is not easily associated with the idea of innovation, but quite simply there is no better time for the OTA industry to adjust their operating model to create more meaningful connections with their customers. Even as the industry returns to “normal” – travel behavior is and will be different and will remain so for an extended duration – and innovation needs to focus on how to make travel easier, and more comfortable. There are many areas and avenues to drive this innovation – be it partnership innovation in the forms of new vacation packages or lodging types – focusing on destinations closer to home or providing more space and distance for travelers; or operation model innovation focused on flexibility and cleanliness guarantees – providing more transparent financial security for travelers hesitant to commit funds to a trip they may not be able to recoup easily; or customer service innovation – finding ways to create easier connections both live and virtually. All of these provide OTA’s and Travel Companies opportunities to invest in capital and process innovation which will ultimately allow for longer term, meaningful connections with their customers.
In the UK, there has been a surge in vacation bookings for 2021. What do you think is important to consumers who are planning vacations and / or business travel?
The industry in the US is seeing a similar surge in bookings, primarily driven by last-minute booking behavior as consumers are anxious to travel (either due to a previously canceled vacation or a building sense of cabin fever). Most interestingly, this increase in bookings, has been led by lodging vs airfare, as consumers are predominantly looking for destinations within a driving distance to avoid crowded airplanes and airports or avoid multiple stops on a long-distance road trips.
These recent trends in booking behavior, combined with recent consumer research, point to two things that consumers are placing renewed importance on both this year, as well as travel plans in the near future. First, location and proximity is newly important to consumers who were previously comfortable with long haul flights as a regular part of their travel experience. As the pandemic persists, the less time they can spend in crowds, confined spaces like airplanes, and fewer stops on a road trip, the better, as it allows them to be in control of their cleanliness and limit potential virus exposure. Second, the last-minute nature of their bookings points to a desire for flexibility and deals. Consumers are not yet comfortable booking major trips en masse multiple months ahead, due to the unknowns around the pandemic future. Flexible closer to the desired travel date gives the consumers more control, less uncertainty about potential cancelations, as well as the ability to shop for the best deal as destinations look to move unused inventory.