How to make your brand stand out in the travel industry during a recession
The travel industry took some blows during the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent economic fallout. The year 2022 provided resurgence and respite, with tourist levels in many countries reaching 80% to 95% of pre-pandemic levels. Air travel to and from the USA and EU increased by an astonishing 1003% on the previous year in 2022.
Despite this revival, the outlook is cloudy for 2023. There are the looming threats of inflation and a predicted recession on the horizon. There is a growing feeling among economists and business leaders that this year will see two or more quarters of negative GDP growth - meaning recession. Should we prepare for another crisis in the tourism industry? Maybe not. The road ahead is still uncertain, and travel brands don’t have to assume the worst. The travel industry during recession has proved remarkably resilient. It survived the global recession sparked by Covid-19 and thrived the following year. The actions of many successful travel brands provide a blueprint for what to do during a recession. Companies quickly accelerated their digital transformation, embracing new methods of communication with customers and the potential of marketing. Hannah Vazzana, Senior Vice President, Corporate Strategy & Communications at Hilton Grand Vacations emphasises the importance of clarity when communicating with customers. She also says that teams must be flexible to adjust business practices and their outward messaging.
“In a year unlike any other, I saw communications teams step up their game and prove to be dynamic, flexible and truly invaluable to their companies … Communicators thus learned to further harness their innate ability to use words to educate, inform, share compassion, and most importantly, bring people together during this unprecedented time.”
The travel industry must work to present a positive outlook for consumers during difficult times. These are our top tips for travel brands about what to do during a recession.
1. Why content is key
Is there anything more persuasive for a travel brand than content? Travel influencers found that during the pandemic, engagement with their content actually increased. “I have never seen my audience more engaged than they are now,” says Ana Linares, a travel influencer who develops curated content for brands.
People want to plan their next holidays during troubled economic times. It’s a form of escapism to watch videos and read content about travel. Expedia Group found that 46% of their customers claimed travel is more important to them now than before the pandemic. Airlines have begun implementing specific customer service approaches to incorporate the regular blogs, videos, tweets, and posts that travellers make about their experiences. Many airlines now offer live customer service chat via scanning QR codes and on instant messaging platforms. The flow of content and communication is an essential part of travel.
2. Start by understanding your customer
It’s never been more crucial to grasp what your customers want from your business. What are their demographics? What are their reasons for wanting to travel? What is their financial situation?
Answering these questions will inform your business strategy going forward. For instance, you might find that families with other priorities are less likely to travel during a recession. While young people who have little other expensive outgoings might decide to prioritise travel even during tough economic times. A recent survey by Seven Corners Travel Insurance found that 57% of travellers would prefer to change holiday plans rather than cancel outright. James Thornton, CEO of Intrepid Travel said, “We might see people travelling more in the off-season, travelling for less time or going short haul instead of long, but they are still going to have their holiday.”
Business travel may be affected in different ways too. Some companies might decide to cut back, but business travel will always be necessary to a certain extent. Some industries prioritise face-to-face meetings, wherever possible, as a key part of maintaining important business relationships.
3. Present your reasons to believe
Now you know who you’re speaking to and how they feel about travel, you can be more persuasive than ever.
Create campaigns and content that remind your customers of the benefits of travel and why it’s important to prioritise it in their lives. Travel is known to reduce stress, and improve mental well-being and quality of life.
Travelling encourages greater emotional connection to family and friends. Focus on niche markets like honeymoons, weddings and other forms of luxury travel that create special memories.
You can even make an economic argument that the travel sector provides jobs all over the world!
4. Create an emotional connection
During times of economic crisis, many companies make the mistake of downsizing their marketing and communications outputs. This tactic can prove detrimental, especially for a travel brand offering an engaging product or service. You need to keep the customer as the core focus and maintain that emotional connection with your brand. Create content that is personable and engaging. Ensure your website and social media content remains consistent, entertaining and up to scratch. Create content that provokes an emotional response and illustrates the unique moments that can happen when you travel.
As Harvard Business Review says, “Our research … shows that the most effective way to maximize customer value is to move beyond mere customer satisfaction and connect with customers at an emotional level – tapping into their fundamental motivations and fulfilling their deep, often unspoken emotional needs”.
If necessary, invest in staff training to optimise your customer service. Seven in 10 customers will buy more from brands that they trust. On the flip side, they rarely engage more than once with a brand they don’t trust. That is never proved to be more true than during a recession.
5. Publicise money-saving tips and offers
Make sure your offer remains appealing and in line with the times. Promote discounts, memberships, and incentives to stay with your brand.
Use your content to publicise this and ensure people know your brand’s value offering. A recession doesn’t have to mean you slash your prices and do things on the cheap. You can afford to provide incentives. Throw in a free upgrade or a little extra that doesn’t cost the company much but adds a lot of quality to your customer experience.
You can take the opportunity to highlight destinations that offer the best value for money. During potentially expensive times to visit the USA and Europe, consider other places that depend on tourism and need visitors to stay afloat. There is the added incentive of supporting local industry, and at a time when fewer people are travelling, the experience may be extra special and unique.
Push this information as far as possible. Keep your website active and use the power of email marketing and social media. Tie in unique and far-flung destinations to specific lifestyles and experiences. You can advertise delicious Argentinian cuisine in a foodie magazine. You can inspire brand-new audiences that way.
Don’t forget to go back and help inspire people who’ve previously travelled with you before and have confidence in your brand. A core of loyal returning customers is valuable in tough economic times.
6. Spend on marketing (yes, really)
It seems counter-intuitive, but the old wisdom ‘you have to spend money to make money’ applies here. Marketing is one of the easiest ways to get results. Ensure you hire a team that creates engaging and emotive content. Think about how you can invest in digital marketing campaigns, webinars and social media content with immediate impact. Much of the travel industry during recession will have to rethink their offer, and spending money on marketing is an important part of doing that. Make sure your offer is present, responding to the current times and needs of your customer base, and your brand will remain relevant to them.
According to Nielsen Marketing, brands that cut their media offer entirely can expect to lose 2% of their long-term revenue each quarter and take three to five years to recover equity losses resulting from that downtime. Consider whether the money you save is worth your later losses.
With the above steps to recession-proof your business, it’s possible for your travel brand to not simply survive but thrive. You need the right team behind you, with a successful track record of developing a resilient brand strategy. You need to invest confidence in your marketing and comms. While it seems like an obvious strategy is to make cuts, but at what actual cost?
A travel brand that successfully puts forward a persuasive image of unique and authentic travel experiences, with a deep understanding of its customers, can continue to grow even during times of crisis in the tourism industry.
If you need support in developing your content strategy, contact us today, and one of the Contese agency writers or our SEO expert will talk you through our process.