After months in a pandemic tailspin, the travel industry is beginning to pick up a little momentum. Economically this is a huge relief, as travel made up roughly 10% of the world’s jobs prior to COVID-19, and many of the 2.5 million jobs that returned to Americans in May were related to “leisure and hospitality.” Even airlines and conventional hotels in some areas are beginning to report solid bookings for 4th of July weekend.
However, while this is good news for the economy, the vast majority of Americans are still wary of stepping out while the pandemic continues to devastate our national health. And though people (especially those with kids) have been home for months with the exception of essential errands, they are unsure about how to get the change of scenery they so desperately crave.
This is where some smaller brands and businesses (and a few larger ones) have an opportunity to show them how. A promise of clean planes and hotels with HEPA filters will be plenty to nudge the 10% of travelers (or so) who are booking big trips out the door. The other 90% need to feel assured – on a personal, familiar level – that taking a trip can be done safely for both themselves and others.
Messaging, then, needs to be shifted both in tone and delivery to reach these more cautious travelers this summer. They will be looking for known quantities they feel comfortable with, local or “driving distance” destinations and a feeling of escape from this ridiculously stressful year. It will be less about adventure and more about the broken paths that are reliable, relaxing and closer to home (but definitely NOT home for a little while). This is some of what we think this audience might respond to:
- Discover a new backyard in your own backyard. A change of scenery does not have to be mountains or beaches to people who have spent months in the exact same house. It just has to be a different house. People just want to take a break from the monotony of lockdown and might not realize how easy that is to come by.
This is where lodging businesses have an opportunity to plant the idea of maybe just “taking a trip down the street.” It isn’t “the norm,” but money is tight and long trips increase the risk of exposure. It makes sense this COVID summer to advertise locally for a “staycation,” just not one you take in your home.
- My friend did it and loved it. Nothing feels like a safer bet than something you have already done before, but next to that is hearing about it from someone you know. This is a good time for brands in the industry to engage micro-influencers. Unlike macro-influencers or celebrity influencers, micro-influencers often are at least acquainted with most of their followers. Their recommendation reaches fewer people, but it carries more weight, especially during a pandemic.
This could look like free stays for influencers or others who might post pictures and recommend them to friends on the basis of assured cleanliness, escape, relaxation and fun. Brands should especially look at more local audiences as well, who are in easy driving distance.
- Think small. We don’t just gravitate toward the familiar in times of crisis; we also like when things feel personal and close. This is a time when discovering a cute, small town or a sleepy beach with a warm feeling and plenty of hospitality is especially attractive to travelers. Partly because it means smaller crowds and less activity. But that isn’t all that is “small” right now.
There is a strong narrative that has become prevalent during the pandemic that “slowing down” and doing the “smaller” things is giving us all much-needed perspective. It is the silver lining many are holding onto. Traveling to a place just to pick peaches might not seem worth it in the usual “go big or go home” summer vacation hustle and bustle, but right now, those small, simple experiences are right on the wavelength of many tourists.
- We’re not here to party, we’re here to dream. Brands like Airbnb normally cater somewhat to larger groups looking to party under one roof: bachelor/ettes, big chills, family reunions, etc. Destinations usually look to be the “happening place” for some audiences, especially younger ones who want to socialize and see people.
But in #covidtimes, vacations feel like a more personal journey. A party house might be advertised instead as a “dream house,” a place that is bigger and nicer than where you live or a cabin in a natural setting you’d never find at your real home. Places are not about what you do there right now, but about how they inspire you and make you feel.
- Come see the World’s Largest Ball of Twine. Similar to what we mentioned in “think small” above, travelers are looking for different experiences than usual: adventures they can take without encountering too many crowds or going too far. Ideally, though, these mini adventures are still worthy of an Insta post and a few funny stories.
Road trips with little quirky landmarks along the way are exactly the kind of “coronacation” many are looking for, especially if it is close enough that they barely even get out of the car. Tourist hotspots have the opportunity to come together and map out/group advertise trips like these for travelers as a “package deal.”
- No devils in the details. As a general note, brands need to be aware of what these more local, cautious travelers are looking for, and the answer is often going to be little details that make the difference between staying or going. For example, brands might not think public bathrooms are an attractive thing to advertise, but plotting out clean ones on the way to the beach or finding ways to offer them to window-shopping pedestrians is a very big deal to travelers who have read that bathrooms are COVID-19 hotspots.
Similarly, letting people know that a town does/does not enforce wearing masks, does/does not have many cases of confirmed COVID, does/does not have a good hospital in spitting distance, does/does not have meal delivery services, etc. will help travelers make decisions without calling 50 places first, because they won’t call 50 places, they’ll just stay home.
Some in the industry are already predicting that travel is on a steady upswing, but in reality many tourists will crawl before they walk. They will want to dip a toe in some more easy, familiar waters that feel personal, safe and close to home. Brands need to understand that, regardless of whether the uptick we’re seeing this summer is steady, it likely won’t be swift. The CDC is still recommending limited travel, and some of us will not feel safe until there is a vaccine. But this can be the crazy COVID summer when we all learned to travel a little bit differently.