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By Jon Bailey

Google Travel expert Raymond Mok recently shared the latest travel trend research at a webinar sponsored by the Hotel Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI), with some interesting data points. As we live through the pandemic while planning marketing strategies for the comeback, I found some useful information for travel and destination marketers to consider.

Mok used Google search volume and terms to draw interesting insights about what people are searching for and the future predictions we can derive from that data. Overall trends may not be a revelation to many, but when we drill down into the specifics there are some valuable truths uncovered.

* Data was derived from Q2 & Q3 2020 and will be updated soon.

Topline Stats

The Google data shows that people are still unsure about planning travel and of those who are searching for options, they are sticking closer to home. That means more road trips and drive destinations, and fewer flights. No surprise here:

  • 48% of consumers say their first trip will be within 100 miles of their home
  • 65% will continue to substitute short distance flights with car travel
  • Searches for “beach rentals” and “staycations” grew by over 100% YOY
  • Searches for “RV rental near” and “rack for car” grew by over 200% YOY
  • Vacation rentals up 20%, hotels down 50%

Brand Loyalty is Down

Overall across all sectors, consumer brand loyalty is down. Since the pandemic began:

  • 36% of consumers have tried a new brand with 73% intending to continue that behavior.
  • 75% of consumers have tried a new shopping behavior, and most intend to continue this post-pandemic.
  • Top criteria stated for switching are availability, convenience and value.

For major travel brands, this has considerable impact. Because business travel is drastically reduced, brand loyalty program use is down dramatically. Hospitality brand website visits are down 51%, and their app downloads are down 46%. Time spent on those apps is down 39%.

The leisure travel market is faring better, but research indicates there is no strong brand demand. Urban markets like Charlotte, Springfield, Philadelphia are down in YOY Hotel Brand Search (ie “Marriott in Vegas”) versus Leisure Markets like Pismo Beach, Jackson Hole and Estes Park which are highest in non-brand search (ie. “Hotel in Vail”).

Pent Up Demand is Growing

When could we see pent up demand occur? That seems to be a moving target tied to tracking expectations for vaccine inoculation rates. Right now, probability statistics indicate highest likelihood for majority inoculation (51%) to happen between July and September 2021.

Purchasing may surge due to pent up demand and will vary by demographic group. As pandemic conditions shift, consumers will be eager to take part in the activities they’ve had to avoid like vacations, sporting events and concerts. Be prepared for a sudden surge in demand and fast decision journeys.

Travelers will expand the types of vacations they are willing to take as international markets and the cruise industry reemerge. Travel companies should consider high-value audiences to optimize for demand and profits.

Coronavirus impact: major purchases US adults are planning once things return to normal (by household income) August 2020:

% of respondents in each group

$50k $50-99K $100k+
Buy new clothes 27% 28% 36%
Vacation/Travel 25% 37% 44%
Personal electronics 17% 19% 29%
Buy car 17% 18% 27%
Buy house $9% 8% $17%

Marketing Actions to Take Now

So what does all this mean to marketers in the tourism and hospitality sector? First of all, we should all be lobbying for budget now so we can create materials and have them ready to use in Q3 and Q4 when this comeback begins.

Here are a few marketing opportunities to consider planning now:

  • Take advantage of visitors’ pent-up desire to travel by offering services and programs that will allow them to stay socially distant as a family unit. (Think small group activities like marshmallow roasts for 4, or picnic lunches packed for excursions).
  • Video is king: stop worrying about everything looking perfect, and produce beautiful videos that you can distribute quickly. Find people on your own team that shoot video well, and deploy them to gather interesting and colorful content. Ideally, you should create a video content calendar with sharing opportunities scheduled several times per week.
    Consider creating packages for travelers interested in coming to a destination first, and follow up with lodging messages second. Use PR and media outreach to tell these stories and publicize your unique offerings. Include LOTS of photos and video.
  • Engage local influencers to help you with local recommendations in target cities – places they have discovered that will appeal to your visitors’ desire to stay safe while exploring the destination. Have them offer a special deal to visitors on your behalf.
  • Explore geotargeting and geofencing your audiences to capture guests already in the area but not currently staying with you.
  • Study social media sentiment among target groups and serve ads relevant to the interests they are expressing on their own platforms.

Of course, if you would like help brainstorming ideas that are specific to your destination, we would be happy to schedule a time to talk!