As travel slowed in 2020, advertising spend in the travel industry fell off a cliff. Hoteliers reevaluated their marketing budgets and focused on new ways to drive bookings.
According to AdAge, travel advertising spending dropped more than 60% in 2020. Now, as the industry pushes further into a rebound, hotels are tasked with determining the best combination of advertising and marketing tactics to maximize return on investment and direct bookings. While some believe travel might not reach pre-pandemic levels until 2024, a study by Booking.com showed 71% of Americans are more hopeful and optimistic about traveling in 2021 as vaccinations take off across the United States.
How will hotels adjust their advertising strategy amidst that rebound? Here’s a closer look.
Don’t abandon pay-per-click and OTA advertising
Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising took an initial hit when the pandemic began in March 2020 as both hotels and Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) like TripAdvisor and Expedia cut ad spend. As the pandemic wore on, many hoteliers turned to metasearch marketing campaigns to increase bookings, with some seeing returns on ad spend (ROAS) as high as 200-300%.
The rise of metasearch doesn’t necessarily mean the fall of PPC and OTAs. It’s important to evaluate both strategies and utilize a mix of the three marketing tactics to ensure you occupy the prime real estate at the top of a metasearch engine like Google Hotel Ads or Trivago. Hotels are beginning to increase ad spend to pre-2020 levels. As you make that move, review relevant keywords, keeping an eye on current search volume trends and possibilities to bid on long-tail keywords, which ensure you show up for the specific searches travelers seeking out your hotel might use.
Determine your best audience for 2021
While all signs point to travel beginning to rebound, the story isn’t that simple. Everyday Americans have shown an increased willingness to start booking trips and getting out of the house, but that’s only one sliver of the travel industry. The American Hotel & Lodging Association says 56% of Americans are planning a leisure trip in 2021, but business travel could take several years to fully rebound from its significant 2020 drop.
According to the Wall Street Journal, business travel in the U.S. totaled just $131 billion in 2020, a significant drop from the $291 billion spent on business travel in 2019. Forecasts for 2021 business travel spending are $157 billion ($236 billion in 2022 and $256 billion in 2023). Now, more than ever, it’s important for hotels to be cognizant of their target advertising audience. Booking.com’s study revealed the following top priorities for travelers in 2021:
- Booking independent hotels and accommodations (26%)
- Choosing less frequented destinations (24%)
- Booking accommodations in or near their hometown for a staycation (20%)
Those new travel trends could make a big impact in how and where hospitality marketers reach their audience in 2021 and the coming years.
Refresh creative assets and refine your messaging
As your target audience potentially changes and becomes more geared toward leisure travel, it’s important to keep your marketing messaging in mind. In particular, there are three trends to be aware of as you refresh your creative advertising assets and refine your message.
1. Cleanliness is becoming a key driver for guests. When the pandemic hit in spring 2020, hotels quickly adapted, taking extra precautions with cleaning and hygiene. Consumers, in turn, have adapted to that new normal. Expedia found that nearly one-third of all guest reviews mention cleanliness. Even as life returns to normal, hoteliers must not lose sight of the health considerations their guests still have top of mind.
2. The planning and booking windows have shrunk, at least for now. Remember those trips that were planned out months in advance? Those have largely become a thing of the past amidst the uncertainty. Data shows that nearly 60% of domestic searches in the U.S. were made in the 0-21 day window in Q1, and many people are booking hotels within a week of travel. It’s important to think about how these changes might affect the way you speak to your prospective guests.
3. Social media advertising is rising. Younger generations now make up a larger slice of the travel industry and the rate of travel research and bookings done on mobile devices continues to rise. That trend, combined with the increased effect of social media influencers on people in their 20s and 30s, has made advertising on channels like Instagram and Facebook even more important.
Follow the data and remain flexible
One of the most important things for hotel marketers to do in 2021 is remain flexible. There is no playbook for marketers to follow and many industry experts can only make guesses about how travelers will continue to respond as the world returns to normal.
To maximize your advertising ROI, stay on top of what the data is telling you and how users are responding. Hospitality trends and messaging can and likely will continue to fluctuate and hotels that stay vigilant will be best positioned to reap the reward of direct bookings.