We all know it’s coming, it’s just a matter of when. The pandemic has caused a huge backlog of pent-up travel demand. A recent Hilton study found that 95% of Americans are missing travel, and that two-thirds plan to take a bucket list trip when restrictions are lifted. China offers another clue to what’s on the other side, as they relatively controlled the spread of COVID-19 in 2020 and have subsequently seen a boom in domestic travel.
What the Data Tells Us
At VJ, we’ve also seen signs of a coming boom across the tourism brands that we support. Typically, one of the best markers of consumer demand is search. We track a custom metric called Available Impressions, which is an estimate of the total demand available for the keywords that matter most to our destination.
Across November and December, we saw Available Impressions for our destinations exceed their levels from 2019. This means that we’re actually seeing greater search demand now than even before the pandemic began. It seems that during the holidays this year, while there was less actual travel, there was much more dreaming about travel.
There’s also been a significant shift in the topics that people are searching. Throughout the year, we’ve seen substantial increases in traffic from keywords highlighting outdoor activities like hiking and biking. At the same time, indoor activities like retail and the arts have become less popular.
Another great resource is Pinterest—a vital part of the travel dreaming phase in the consumer journey. The company has a treasure trove of search data that offers compelling insights into what travelers are seeking. For example, they’ve found huge year-over-year increases in searches for mountain travel (+35%) and forest resort (+100%), again pointing to the popularity of the outdoors.
So, with all this pent-up demand along with hesitation and/or inability to actually travel, how should destination marketers take action? Here’s what we recommend throughout all of your marketing, including prospecting channels, search, email, and site content:
1. Keep your audience engaged.
People are yearning to look beyond the home office, home classroom and home gym. They’re dreaming about getting away. We also have a new baseline of increased internet and social media usage. So, destination marketers have a captive audience now, maybe more so than ever.
Bottom line: The demand is there and the audience is there. If you don’t dream with them, another brand will.
2. Highlight your COVID-friendly activities.
Even when tourism restrictions begin to lift and travel picks up again, behavior is not going to change overnight. When travel resumes, many people may not be comfortable going right back to the activities of 2019. Crowded concert halls, bars, and restaurants may take some getting used to. So take this opportunity to emphasize the great COVID-friendly activities your destination has to offer.
Bottom line: Lean into your destination’s outdoor attractions, patio dining … anything that conveys a sense of space and social distance can provide comfort to the more hesitant potential travelers.
3. Embrace the planning phase!
As we all spend more time at home right now, those who aren’t typically planners now have more time to put into the exercise. And those who already loved planning, well, they’re probably in plan-making overdrive right now. You know who you are.
We recommend building customized travel itineraries for foodies, history buffs, and thrill-seekers. Bulk up (or start) your email content strategy to allow people to stay up to date on your reopening plans while also building your database. And last, ensure your messaging meets the moment and the market. The “Book Now” calls to action were probably paused many months ago, but even so, be sure that you’re speaking to travelers where they are in the dreaming mindset.
Bottom line: Shift your marketing and content strategy to fully embrace the planning and dreaming phase, in words and actions.
Is there more to say here? Yeah, you bet. Every destination brand is different. Let’s get back to dreaming together—drop us a line!
Vladimir Jones is Colorado’s original independent, integrated advertising agency, with offices in Denver and Colorado Springs. We believe in brilliant brands and love making the world love them as much as we do.