Sunny Side Up MD explains how travel brands can avoid being old-school

Written by Amelia Fraser

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As brands once again raise their sights beyond the horizon, our MD, Zoe has written this piece for TTG Media on how travel brands can avoid being old-school and capture the marketing zeitgeist for both short- and long-term benefit.

As we approach the festive end to the year, the mood in travel certainly seems buoyed by actions, observations and cold hard data: the three big operators have increased their Atol-protected seats by more than 20%, Clia is forecasting the global number of cruise passengers in 2023 will surpass 2019 levels, and Hilton’s 2024 Global Trends Report highlights that a quarter of adults want to experience solo travel over the next three years. We also have the likes of Mintel’s British Lifestyles Report telling us that the holiday market is set to exceed pre‑Covid values.

We’re back, baby, we’re back!

But back to what? Back to the old days? Or back to the future?

Traditionally, the first six weeks of the year are the be-all and end-all to the success of the overall year and there is a mad scramble of performance marketing across the whole industry – click here for more, book now, book before x date, book now for x% discount!

Traditionally, price is everything. Competition is intense whether you’re a luxury hotel group, a caravan park, a golden sandy beach island or an airline – there is always a competitor and while we all know a race to the bottom when we see one, it takes a brave brand to refuse to join in.

Traditionally, travel brands segment by age… Gen X, Y and Z, boomers etc. We have places for the silver-haired and islands for the young and family holidays, like these groups are homogenous.

I hope you’re looking at the above list and thinking “my brand doesn’t behave like that”, I really do. But I also know that for every imaginative “The Polite Bouncer” from Icelandair, there are one hundred undifferentiated sun-drenched sandy beaches with a £££ sign writ-large in the corner. If you’re looking at the above list and shifting slightly uncomfortably in your seat, below are five actions you can take which might ease your disquieted mind.

1. Understand the need to split spend and activity between brand and performance. Yes, a strong price-promotion will have a positive impact on traffic and enquiries if placed in the right places at the right time, but what about after that first booking? The strongest brands “grow the apple tree as well as selling the apples” – it’s a simple analogy… you need to build your brand over the long-term as well as sell holidays in the short-term.

2. Get beyond price. Travel is one of the sexiest and most impactful sectors to work in. It’s what a huge percentage of the population spends time dreaming about, saving for, doing Pinterest boards on and planning for. Travel inspires, educates, refreshes, enriches, challenges, affirms, transforms and stays with the punter for life… so sell the sizzle not the sausage. Awaken your clients’ imaginations, appeal to their emotions and appear in their dreams. Consumers want persuasive communications that force destinations, hotels and experiences into their heart. This is what brand-building is: relevance, emotion, coolness, desirability… repeat-purchase.

3. Go beyond demographic targeting. Culture vultures, fit and healthies, the laid-back, entertainment seekers, luxe-for-lessers, climate worriers, off-grid seekers… they aren’t defined by age. Good brand marketers build the evidence for who to target through research, they segment, they choose targets and they position distinctively… then they appeal.

4. Update your media mix. I know 2019 is only four years ago, but it’s been an important four years. We have had four more years of digitally-native consumers coming into the market, four more years of the rising tide of influencers, four more years of decline across many traditional media sources, four more years of multiple screen-use, four more years of growth of Instagram and the arrival, with noise, of TikTok.

5. If you haven’t already, define your purpose. Make sure you have developed a stronger handle on, and manifestation of, your ESG (environmental, social and governance) policies. So much of this is increasingly considered non-negotiable by many consumers but there is still clear room for improvement, almost universally.

And finally, if you need some more inspiration, here’s the Icelandair campaign video referenced above.