Travel Brands: When should you start marketing again? And on what channels? And to whom?

Written by Lemongrass Marketing on 13th May 2020

One question asked of me day after day is “when should I start marketing again?”

How can we justify spending money on marketing when there seem to be so many unknowns? Even professional forecasters can only see 400 days into the future. What hope for the rest of us!

When there is little or no revenue. When coming out of lockdown might be even more difficult than going in. What do we do? Preserve cash by stopping marcomms or do we invest in the future? When should we start? Where should we put our money? What should we prioritize?

Missing your connection

Now more than ever as we face this prolonged period of isolation away from friends, family, and colleagues, the one need that binds us all together is connection.

Connecting with future guests and visitors at this time will serve you well in the longer term. We remember. We increase our loyalty. We tell others. Deepening your bond with future guests and visitors means revenue later on.

History lessons

It’s human to worry. To save. To protect. To pull up the drawbridge and retreat. It’s also human to innovate, prepare and plan.

Understandably, however, brands across the world have paused or reduced marketing activity, reining in their spend to protect their business. Coca-Cola, for example, has decided to stop all Q2 marketing in the UK.

But history tells us this is a short-term fallacy. Kellogg’s took a different path. In the Great Depression, the cereal brand doubled its marketing and communications budget. It came out the other side with a profit increase of almost 30%, setting it on course to be the industry’s dominant player today (the nutritional value of either brand is, of course, dismal, but that is another issue).

Sounds simple? Yes and no.  

Knowing when to communicate is the first challenge. The beginning of the period saw a flurry of messaging giving practical insights on how businesses were affected and what that meant for customers. Relevant then. But as the weeks pass and the majority of hotels have been closed for a prolonged period the messaging and its frequency needs to change.

As we face the easing of lockdown measures now is the time for marketing comms to kick back in. We advise closely monitoring the political situation in your domestic markets and vitally the situation in your top 2-3 key international markets.  As soon as lockdown measures are eased in those countries marketing needs to resume at a depth that is sufficient to penetrate the market.

Who to talk to…and why this is almost the most important point! Realistically we know many brands will be facing reduced budgets and inevitably will have to achieve a higher ROI to overcome the difficult trading conditions.

Our advice is to invest in reliable data-driven customer research and then develop a marcomms plan based on that data. Gut instinct and vanity PR no; precise and detailed analysis of customers, yes.

Here is an example from the clients we are implementing data-driven campaigns for at the moment. Recent data we analysed for the Leipzig Tourist Board revealed ‘active and cultural travellers’ have a far longer customer journey than millennials. We also revealed by mining the data (marketers are becoming more like data scientists without a white coat) that millennials are much less risk-averse and have the highest propensity to travel soon after lockdown restrictions are lifted. This data led us to advise the Leipzig Tourist Board to focus initially on those ‘quick win audiences’ who we know are more spontaneous and likely to travel earlier.  A fully integrated, multi-channel, multi-market campaign targeted at these “quick win audiences” is the best way to drive revenue back into the city as soon as restrictions are being lifted.

Know thy audience

Countless studies show that one of the most important things travel brands can do during a crisis is to ensure they have a solid understanding – underpinned by data- of who their new audiences are, which nationalities are more likely to travel and the best channels to market to them.

As marketers take a more data-driven approach to decision making for clients not only does this optimise client spend it also results in better decisions. Humans, particularly when anxious and worried are more likely to make quick decisions that may feel good but are in fact wrong (those of you interested in this idea read Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking Fast and Slow).

The Canadian Tourism Commission’s response to SARS in 2003 was to re-profile their audiences which successfully helped limit the disastrous impact on their brand, their suppliers, and the communities they serve.

Where to focus your messaging.  One of the questions I’ve been asked over and over again in our recent webinars on marketing planning is ‘which channel to use to push out messages: social channels? Google ads? Print or online media? E-marketing or video content’?

My answer is always the same: it depends on the audience you are trying to reach – what works for families with young children might not work for cultural city trippers. Facebook might be right for some audiences; Instagram might be better suited to others. Some audiences respond better to video; others prefer to read online newspapers. You really do need to drill deep into each of your audiences to understand which channel is best suited to which audience – and develop a campaign prototype for each audience. Once we know which channels they are on we use social and search listening tools to reveal their values and passions. And how Covid-19 has potentially changed what is and isn’t important in terms of key messaging.

One thing is for sure though:

Now is the time to bin old fashioned channel first communications strategies and move towards an audience first plan, underpinned by data and social listening research. If you still have a separate PR plan. A separate social and content plan. A separate SEO plan you must move towards campaign prototyping. You must think about an “audience first – channel second plan” for all the reasons outlined above.

Ask your SEO team to explain what the PR team or social team is doing at any given time and vice versa for each of your key audiences. If the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing then you are not working in an integrated way. We are working with clients to ensure that data flows across all these touchpoints and messaging is aligned.

If you want to find out more about campaign prototyping and audience profiling listen to this podcast.

What to say…  The line between commercial and caring content is a tricky one to tread.  Intercontinental Hotels has released a heart-warming video which strikes exactly the right sentiment and several tourist boards including our client Cascais get the tone right.  We help clients to ensure the right tone and approach. Get it wrong and it will damage your brand for years to come.

As it becomes apparent that domestic and hyper-local getaways will be the initial revenue stream, focusing on partnerships with independent businesses within your community is a fantastic way to build goodwill and grassroots support.  Many luxury hotels have gone above and beyond in their initiatives, read more here.

And don’t forget that how you treat your staff and other stakeholders will impact your brand reputation. Get it wrong and all the marketing in the world won’t undo the damage. Again, we are working with many clients on their messaging to protect their brand.

A good example of this approach is an initiative by Cairn Group to save jobs but also give much-needed help to care homes. Berlin-based GetYourGuide whose culture “thrives in uncertainty” has avoided layoffs for all its 700 staff in 17 offices around the world and has gained positive PR coverage as a result.

As consumers are starting to move towards the consideration phase of the customer journey content relating to health and safety will be well received.  Our client Martinhal is taking full advantage of the ‘Clean and Safe Stamp’ initiative launched by Turismo de Portugal to let travellers distinguish when a company is compliant with hygiene and cleaning requirements to prevent the spread of Covid-19. However, as we heard from Claire Irvin, Head of Travel at the Telegraph just yesterday don’t exclusively focus on hygiene messaging. Building and maintaining a travel brand has to be more multi-faceted if we want to continue to inspire people to travel.

The future…   In summary, our recommendation for a speedy recovery is to invest in the data. We have invested in the tools to enable you to reveal need audiences and determine the right messaging.

Your marketing communications must adapt as radically as your operation. That way you can emerge stronger and faster as we navigate our way through a post COVID-19 travel world. Or in the more poetic words of JJR Tolkien: Still round the corner, there may wait, a new road or a secret gate.


  person on a mountain peak footsteps on the beach   woman doing yoga on a mountain with view person riding a bike across a desert plain kayaking in river rapids

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We’re Lemongrass Marketing – we help travel brands grow by delivering PR and content strategies based on digital audience insights. Let’s talk about your next PR, Digital PR and content campaign. Message or call +44 (0)1865 237 990.