‘Return of travel depends on their success’: How marketers are promoting tourism as Covid vaccination ramps up

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With nearly half of the U.S. population having received the first dose of the Covid-19 vaccination and warmer weather on the horizon, the travel and tourism industry may finally be on the rebound. 

Within the last few weeks major cities across the nation have started rolling out post-pandemic recovery campaigns. For example this week, New Orleans launched marketing campaign “The Concierge,” targeting audiences within driving distance of the city. According to a spokesperson for the campaign, it will expand to other markets as vaccination efforts continue. The last marketing campaign the city ran was in early 2020,  but it was halted in March as the pandemic set in.

For marketers, it’s a sign that points to a pent-up demand for leisure travel and a comeback of its marketing. However, much of the focus is on domestic travel marketing as there’s still pandemic uncertainty and international travel restrictions.

“We’re going to start seeing a lot of travel marketing come back online in the next few weeks,” said Nate Skinner, co-managing director of creative agency Stink Studios. “It’s definitely week-to-week, but it feels like we’re going to see an acceleration in marketing once marketers are sure a travel message is one consumers want, or will even be excited, to hear.”

The city of Boston last month launched its “All Inclusive Boston” campaign targeting Bostonians and those within the tri-state area. Down South, Virginia is positioning itself as a safe, road trip destination as health and safety remains a top concern for many, according to Lindsey Norment, brand director, for Virginia Tourism.

“Identifying the low-risk experiences and taking advantage of the fact that people are open to looking into new places that they didn’t consider before will be a big part of our strategy,” Norment said via email, noting that road trips may be the entry point for a return to normal travel. 

As the pandemic rattled the world last year, airline and travel brands took a major hit. In 2020, U.S. airlines, hotels and resorts spent an estimated $834.9 million on media compared to about $1.8 billion in 2019, per Kantar data (those figure exclude social media spending as Kantar doesn’t track social spending). It’s unclear how much travel and tourism brands will spend on media in 2021, but flexibility in media buy will be crucial moving forward, according to Lauren Cipressi, associate media director at Mediahub agency. 

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“COVID rates and traveler confidence has been volatile and regional, so it is crucial to have added flexibility in our media buys,” Cipressi said. “It provides the ability to reallocate budget across channels, messaging, and tactics based on near real-time performance and updated CDC guidance.” 

According to new research from data and intelligence company Resonate, one-third of consumers believe leisure travel activities will resume by this August. The research also states more than two-thirds of Americans are or intend to be vaccinated by this June.

But even as vaccination rollout continues, we’re not out of the pandemic woods yet and marketers are careful to build out messaging that takes that into account. Much of the return to normal travel hinges on people’s behavior and how far they’re willing to travel. Per Deepthi Prakash, global director of product and marketing at TBWA\Worldwide, international travel may be on hold until 2022 and beyond given the uncertainty of the pandemic, international travel restrictions and the potential for more lockdowns. 

Carey Malloy, director of brand marketing at Orbitz and Cheap Tickets echoed Prakash’s sentiments, noting that the company intends to keep a watchful eye on vaccine distribution in anticipation that travel demand will continue to grow.

“We’re energized by the strong progress made in distributing COVID-19 vaccines and wholeheartedly support the scientific community in this effort,” Malloy said via email. “We believe the return of travel depends on their success.”

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