The travel industry is among the worst hit by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and recovery is expected to take several years – particularly on the international stage.
While the road to recovery is long, travellers are showing they’re ready to book at the first opportunity. Insights from Google reveal the increased demand for travel bookings and the new prioritises travel marketers need to address as the world starts moving again.
International travel continues to face the greatest uncertainty with case numbers, Covid-policies and travel restrictions varying between countries. Amid continued uncertainty, IMF research suggests global spending won’t fully recover until 2023 while McKinsey predicts air traffic will only return to 2019 levels by 2024.
As Google puts it:
“The travel industry has been hit especially hard by the pandemic. It was first into the crisis – and will likely be among the last out of it.” – What search trends mean for travel marketers today, Think with Google
Demand is on the rise, though. Globally, search volumes for “where to travel” and “can I travel” are at near all-time highs.
Uncertainty remains the biggest challenge amid speculation in the media over an October “fire break” lockdown (which the government has denied) and other reports of the traffic light system being revised or scrapped.
Clearly, travel rules are going to continue changing across the world and so are the priorities and expectations of travellers. Uncertainty makes it difficult for people to book with confidence so companies have to take steps to ease concerns (flexible bookings, refunds, etc.) but search data also reveals travellers are looking for different things now.
So travel companies and marketers have to respond to changing demands – as well as ongoing uncertainty.
Google research reveals that “only 9% of travel marketers believe their business is completely prepared for what the next phase of travel will bring.”
This is hardly surprising with so many unknowns and the short notice (if any) that has been given ahead of changes to travel restrictions throughout the pandemic. However, Google believes it has the data to help travel companies navigate the road to recovery and, as we’ve discussed several times in the past, search data is the biggest asset for companies that need to adapt during uncertain times.
Joint research from Google and Kantar shows that the top priority for travellers post-Covid is visiting people they care about, not the holiday destinations they’ve always dreamed of.
After three national lockdowns, one restrained Christmas and varying social restrictions over the past two years, tourism academic Fabio Carbone is calling for companies and marketers “to rethink tourist activity, tourism planning, management and destination development based on a new humanism that would consider the “human factor” more than it has done so far.”
Instead of focusing on traditional themes of wanderlust and margaritas on the beach, marketers are being urged to focus more on human relationships, connections and shared experiences – whether it’s with family, friends or local communities.
Google points to another trend in the viewing figures of YouTube videos with the phrase “slow living” in the title.
“These videos are especially appealing to viewers during the pandemic because they provide a sense of escape and a window into aspirational lifestyles.” – ‘Slow living’: The new fast-rising consumer trend, Think with Google
Escape and inspirational lifestyles are key drivers of travel bookings for people who want to get away and enjoy a taste of something more luxurious. However, the realities people are looking to escape from and the perception of luxury has changed drastically during the pandemic and these are the shifts travel companies need to respond to.
With global travel restrictions being the greatest source of uncertainty for travellers (and travel companies), domestic travel provides the greatest sense of reliability. The UK has experienced a domestic travel boom during the summer of 2021 and some parts of the country expect demand to remain high until the end of the year.
Many travel companies are already experiencing a surge in domestic bookings for summer 2022.
The domestic boom is certainly on and the UK stands to benefit from the swathes of holidaymakers that normally travel and spend overseas staying in the country and spending their money with local businesses.
There are downsides to the domestic travel boom, though. The price of UK holiday bookings has soared in 2021 with families spending thousands to sleep in a caravan park for a week in parts of Cornwall and reports of the Lake District costing four times as much as a break in southern Italy.
Many people have been priced out of holidays altogether this year, meaning a lot of the demand for domestic trips has been left unsatisfied. With bookings for summer 2022 already being taken, travel companies and businesses in the UK should explore options for increasing capacity.
Sustainable travel was an emerging trend ahead of the Covid-19 pandemic, but Google data suggests environmental issues will receive increased attention during the road to recovery.
“Our research shows that environmental responsibility may become a bigger focus for future travellers, as 42% of travel marketers expect this to be an increasing need.” – What search trends mean for travel marketers today, Think with Google
The pandemic has exacerbated environmental issues, too. Popular destinations such as the Lake District are dealing with the “devastating impact” of visitor numbers and widespread reports of rubbish left at beauty spots and popular locations.
Clearly, sustainability is more important to some travellers than others but companies need to show they’re taking steps to deal with higher visitor numbers – more bins, cleaning personnel, etc.
As we’ve seen with a rise in negative reviews on platforms like TripAdvisor, soaring prices are met with soaring expectations and travellers aren’t necessarily sympathetic about the challenges of delivering service under the constraints of a pandemic and increased demand.
With travel disruption likely to continue for years to come, uncertainty will remain the key theme throughout the road to recovery. Google says it is seeing an increased interest in travel insurance as people take steps to ease some of their concerns about travel bookings and companies should take whatever steps they can to further reassure holidaymakers.
“Ensure you elevate messaging around flexible booking and safety measures further up the marketing funnel to give consumers peace of mind and encourage conversions. People want to know they’re in safe hands and won’t be out of pocket if travel restrictions are suddenly re-introduced or adjusted.” – What search trends mean for travel marketers today, Think with Google
With traveller interests and prioritise changing quickly, it’s increasingly difficult for marketers to consistently match these concerns in their messages, Google recommends using Dynamic Search Ads (DSA) to automatically match the search terms used in relevant queries by using content from your website – allowing you to meet the needs of a wider audience, even as their interests change.
Google has also released two new tools to help travel marketers deal with the challenges of navigating the road to recovery. With the Destination Insights and Hotel Insights tools, you can gain real-time insights into travel demand to inform your marketing campaigns. You can see which destinations are gaining interest domestically and internationally, measure the overall shift from domestic to international travel (whenever that happens) and the demand for hotels and accommodation areas of interest.
These insights will help you respond to trends as they develop, instead of simply reacting to them when every other company is competing for the same opportunities.
As mentioned earlier, the key takeaway is to make full use of the search data at your disposal – both first-party and third-party – to see how travel interests are changing in real-time and launch preemptive marketing campaigns to satisfy demand ahead of the peak.
If you want to learn more about using search data to inform marketing decisions and predict future trends, you can speak to our travel marketing team by calling 02392 830 281 or filling out the contact form below. Also check out our travel marketing experience for more information.
Chris is Managing Director at Vertical Leap and has over 25 years' experience in sales and marketing. He is a keynote speaker and frequent blogger, with a particular interest in intelligent automation and data analytics. In his spare time, he enjoys playing the guitar and is a stage manager at the Victorious Festival.
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