Global air travel is forecast to bounce back to pre-covid levels in mid-2023. With pre-pandemic numbers expected by June this year, the industry can finally start working towards growth again.
However, travel marketers and companies need to understand the landscape is different now. Air travel numbers may be returning to pre-Covid levels but people’s attitudes to travelling have changed.
So let’s look at how you can target the five main travel audiences, now that the industry is fully recovering.
Throughout the travel search and booking process, there are five key audiences you need to target as purchase intent gradually increases. The audiences we’re discussing in this article are:
These five target audiences cover the entire travel search and booking process. This starts with the first moment of inspiration and carries on throughout the planning and booking stages.
It doesn’t end with the initial booking, either. People may start with booking flights and hotels, but they’ll also be in the market for tours, local restaurants, activities and all kinds of secondary bookings.
Many of these bookings may take place before the trip begins, However, travellers will continue to make bookings and visit local businesses while they travel.
The travel industry is finally recovering from the devastation of Covid-19 but it has to recognise that priorities are different now. So, let’s take a quick look at some key insights for 2023 that reveal the latest attitudes to travelling.
ABTA’s latest Holiday Habits report shows the UK’s demand for international travel returned in 2021. This is expected to increase even further in 2023 with international travel firmly the priority, once again.
Despite this, interest in domestic travel remains above pre-pandemic levels. In fact, studies forecast domestic travel plans will only drop by 1% in 2023. This represents a boost for local businesses as domestic travel remains high and visitor numbers from overseas increase further.
Unsurprisingly, Europe is the top destination for UK travellers in 2023. Data from Kantar shows 56% of UK travellers intend to visit Europe this year, up from 52% this year.
Interestingly, Kantar’s study suggests interest in UK domestic travel has actually increased since last year. It finds 26% of UK travellers are planning trips across the British Isles in 2023.
Meanwhile, plans for trips to the rest of the world are down to 18% from 26% last year.
The cost of living crisis and other economic factors affect the travel choices people are making. According to insights from Deloitte, 60% of travellers in 2022 said inflation will impact the way they travel.
Interestingly, travellers are reluctant to allow economic factors to limit how often they travel and where they go. They’re far more likely to save money in other areas, such as changing the time of year they travel or taking cheaper modes of transport.
Despite the cost of living crisis, people are prioritising travel over many other areas in which they can cut back on spending. According to ABTA insights, people in the UK will cut back on eating out, leisure activities and clothes before spending less on travel.
Even more telling, the same study finds only 4% of people who travelled in the past year plan to take no trips at all in 2023. So travellers in the UK are showing remarkable resilience despite the cost of living crisis and other economic concerns.
Instagram remains the top source of travel inspiration for social media users. Data from Skyscanner shows 40% of travellers get their travel ideas from Instagram while 20% get their ideas from TikTok. TikTok may be the rising star in the social media world but more travellers (33%) are still getting travel ideas from Facebook. Source
While it’s easy to assume younger people are getting all of their inspiration from TikTok these days, the data says otherwise. Kilroy’s Youth Travel Insight Report 2023 shows traditional search is the top source (58%) of travel inspiration for 18-to-25-year-olds.
While older generations are still spending more, younger travellers are ready to open their wallets this year.The same Kilroy report shows the majority of young travellers (26%) plan to spend between £2,000 and £4,000 on a holiday this year.
Now that we’ve set the scene with these 2023 travel insights, let’s explore how you can target the five main travel audiences this year.
Casually browsing the web and going about their lives
Your first target audience doesn’t even realise they want to go on holiday yet. They’re simply going about their business and your first job is to spark that initial travel interest.
Social advertising is the ideal place to start with this target audience. This is where people see all their friends’ holiday pictures and follow influencers leading the luxury lifestyles they dream of.
Your goal is to show them this dream is only a short holiday away, so start with Instagram and Facebook ads that show people the kind of travel experience they’re craving.
With Facebook and Instagram, you’re covering the majority of travel demographics but you should also take a look at TikTok and Pinterest, both of which boast impressive engagement metrics for travel inspiration.
As we saw from the 2023 travel insights earlier, TikTok is gaining momentum, especially with younger travellers. However, Instagram is still the best place to inspire audiences who aren’t actively searching for travel ideas.
If you’re in the hotel business, emphasise the locations you’re promoting and the travel experience rather than your rooms at this stage of the funnel. Focus on those dreamy images of the perfect trip to inspire people – all you need to do is look at the top Instagram travel influencers to get an idea of what people want from their travels.
Look for influencers that resonate with your target audience (e.g. luxury travel vs adventure travel) and what kind of content is making the most impact with their followers. This gives you a good idea of what your audience will respond to as they’re scrolling down their feed.
Keep in mind that people’s idea of a perfect getaway has changed multiple times since the pandemic. In the early stages of opening up again, UK travellers were prioritising the important people in their lives – ie: visiting family and friends or travelling together.
Now, the top motivator for UK travellers is to get away and unplug while spending time with family and friends is the second priority. Meanwhile, the primary purpose behind EU citizens’ travel plans is to experience different cultures.
You need to understand these priorities and cater to them for each of your target audiences.
Researching and comparing locations for their next holiday
Once someone decides they’re going on a trip, the next key action is choosing where to go. These people aren’t casually browsing anymore; they’re actively looking for travel destinations and this brings them to search. As we saw earlier, search engines like Google are the first place people turn to when they want to find travel information.
According to data from Expedia for Q1 2023, travellers are planning ahead for more of their trips this year.
Most travellers are still planning their trips within 0-21 days before heading off but the share is dropping rapidly. Travellers are increasingly planning their trips months in advance and many are now planning up to six months ahead. This means early-funnel marketing campaigns are even more important for travel brands in 2023.
The same report shows beach and city destinations are the most in-demand for international holidays.
At the same time, Covid-19 concerns are waning among travellers as other priorities emerge. Above all, the cost of living crisis and increasing prices are the biggest challenges for most travellers in 2023.
As we’ve already seen, this isn’t denting travellers’ intentions to take trips but it is affecting how they make booking decisions.
Insights from easyJet reveal the following about spending intentions for 2023:
Travel companies need to respond to these priorities in their campaigns for 2023. Travel demand is high but concerns about expenses are real. So you can win a lot of customers by helping them to save money in the right places while still satisfying their priorities in areas where they’re willing to spend more money.
Clearly, travel companies will have to prioritise trips to Europe this year. In many cases, the more affordable city breaks will hit the right compromise for budget-conscious travellers.
So, rather than marketing a city like Lisbon as a standalone destination, you might want to expand your campaigns. For example, you could target cities and locations around Lisbon that are more affordable and promote day trips to the Portuguese capital. This way, you can keep targeting Lisbon as a keyword and tap into the demand while giving travellers cheaper alternatives for accommodation and other expenses.
Looking for flights, hotels, etc.
With their destination decided, a traveller’s next move is to look at flights, hotels, rental cars and any other essentials like travel insurance. Once again, a search engine is the first place people are going to turn to.
Google adapted its flight search product throughout the pandemic to provide key information, such as the percentage of flights running and the percentage of hotels open for locations.
Now that the world’s fully open and Covid-19 concerns are declining, these details will have less impact on booking decisions in 2023.
Instead, travel companies will have to address the priorities and challenges impacting travellers this year. If we go back to the Kilroy Youth Travel Insights Report, we can see what the top challenges are for 18-to-35-year-old travellers in 2023:
Understandably, prices and budgeting are the top concerns for younger travellers. This will be the deciding factor in many travel bookings for 2023 and something companies need to address.
Crucially, younger travellers also need help planning their trips – and they’re open to advice. This is a huge content marketing opportunity for travel brands to reach younger travellers and influence bookings, especially if they can help travellers plan more affordable trips.
As a knock-on effect, it seems younger travellers will plan and book most of their trips by themselves – not with travel agents. The same Kilroy survey reveals concerns over pricing is the main reason for this:
Travel agents may need to target higher-spending audiences for 2023 to overcome these concerns. Alternatively, if they can prove their ability to save travellers money overall – especially for longer or more complex trips – this could strike a workable balance between budget and planning concerns.
Luckily, we’ve already seen that younger travellers are spending more on travel this year. So travel agents shouldn’t assume they can’t target younger travellers as a legitimate audience. However, they will need to carefully consider their messaging for 18-to-25-year-olds and target the less budget-conscious segment.
Google is responding to greater concern over the environmental impact of flying, too. Google Flights now shows emissions information for individual flights, comparing the typical rate of emissions for the route vs the emissions of the flight in question.
Keep in mind that a lot of people still use platforms like Booking.com, Skyscanner and Moneysupermarket.com – and mobile apps will keep some users away from search engines.
For the majority of users who still turn to Google Search at this stage of the booking process, you’ll want to create campaigns in Google Ads. Create campaigns for each location and use assets to improve your chances of attracting clicks. Rating extensions make your ads stand out visually and increase user confidence in your brand while sitelink extensions allow you to make multiple offers and direct users to more specific parts of your site.
If you’re not in the flights or hotel business (or anything that fits into this early booking category), you can still introduce your brand by creating campaigns for the Display Network and targeting comparison sites, airlines and other websites people visit at this stage of the research/booking process.
Finally, we also have to acknowledge the fact that sustainable travel is typically more expensive. While interest is higher than ever, travellers’ ability to pay for sustainable alternatives is strained amidst the cost of living crisis.
As a recent Booking.com survey revealed, 76% of travellers said they want to travel more sustainably. However, 49% said sustainable travel options are too expensive and only 43% said they are willing to pay extra for sustainable alternatives.
Looking for attractions, activities, restaurants etc. (before they travel)
Once the flights are booked, people turn their attention to planning the best holiday they can. During the period between booking flights and departure, travellers have time to do their research; they’re going to be looking for the ‘unmissable’ things to do in their travel destination.
Instagram makes a big comeback here as people turn to the social network for travel inspiration. Unlike audience #1, you can now target people based on the locations they’re showing interest in (Facebook and Instagram) and really wow them with what you have to offer.
Search is crucial here too so take a two-pronged approach, with PPC ads and organic content. Think about a user session that starts with ‘places to visit in Cambodia’ and develops into ‘Angkor Wat tours’ and ‘best time to visit Angkor Wat’.
Aside from flights and hotel search, Google is also positioning itself as a travel planning tool. This is an important channel for tourist attractions, tours, events, restaurants and local services.
Local companies should keep their Google Business Profile (formerly Google Business Profile) up to date with key info, such as opening times so people can easily check that businesses are open.
Looking for attractions, activities, restaurants etc. (after they arrive)
Your final travel target audience is people who are currently in your area, looking for things to see, eat and do. Mobile has empowered travellers to make buying decisions on the move, all they need to do is open up Google Maps to find the best local restaurants, attractions and photo spots.
This tells you how important it is to have a strong presence on Google Maps if you are a local service that travellers are likely to be looking out for.
Of course, mobile search is also going to play a key role in helping people make quick decisions. It could be a case of looking up a tour operator to see what their reviews are like on TripAdvisor, trying to find a 24/7 store or looking for the most ‘Instagrammable’ places in your area.
Make sure you know what people are searching for while they’re in your area because this is a key part of your SEO and PPC strategies. If you’re keen to invest time in SEO but you’re not sure where to start, we offer SEO services to help guide you.
People don’t take a break from social media just because they’re on holiday either – quite the opposite. Facebook and Instagram both have a targeting option that allows you to target people who are currently travelling in specific locations. This means you can plant ideas in people’s heads about what to do the next day, where to eat later that evening and where to buy some local crafts to take back home.
For more information on how to localise your travel campaigns to your travel target audiences, check out our beginner’s guide for PPC and social media travel marketers.
The travel booking process is a journey in itself and people’s mindset changes a great deal along the way. Understanding how needs evolve throughout this process is crucial to a successful travel marketing campaign.
Your aim is to spark that initial travel inspiration before people even realise they want to take a trip – and to make sure everyone planning a trip in your locations knows what your brand has to offer.
Finally, by targeting people while they travel in your area, you can secure those final high-intent leads that many brands ignore.
We have lots of experience in the travel industry and our teams are on hand ready to help right now. Call us on 02392 830281 or send us your details and we’ll call you.
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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