To say that these are challenging times for destination marketers would be an understatement. COVID-19 is impacting travel the world-over and destination marketing organizations (DMOs) are facing the daunting challenge of communicating complex information with current and future visitors. They are tasked with both gauging and communicating how open their communities are for business—and what health and safety measures are in place.
We explored how destinations are coping with these challenges at the Destinations International Annual Convention—held virtually this year. We continued our legacy of hosting our Insights Summit as part of the event, where we shared Expedia Group research and data on what travelers are looking for and how travelers are behaving now. We also tapped a panel of leaders from various DMOs to understand how they are tackling the challenges of the day.
Expedia Group’s data indicates that there is reason to be hopeful; there are green shoots around the world of people looking to travel again, though that continues to fluctuate week by week. Expedia Group provides detailed, real-time data to advertising partners on how travelers are looking and booking in any given market.
For DMOs, it is important to note that we are also seeing new cross shopping trends. Markets that have never previously competed with one another are now being considered by the same travel shopper. Some of the greatest value we can deliver to our partners right now is to help destinations understand the data: where people are searching for travel, how far out they are booking, how long they are staying. We are also helping support our advertising partners through our $25 million destination relief program.
My colleague, Tammy Snow, senior director, user research, Expedia Group, joined us at our Insights Summit to discuss five major trends that have recently emerged from Expedia Group data:
1. Health and safety are top of mind for travelers. For example, both surveys and actual behaviors indicate that travelers are eager to know how hotels and airlines are cleaning and supporting social distancing.
2. When it comes to booking, traveler shoppers are looking for flexibility. Understandably, they want proactive, clear, and transparent updates from all travel partners.
3. Driving and staying close to home is a major trend with travelers right now. People are not only more comfortable staying close to home, there are also border closures to contend with. In general, people do want to get away and are optimistic about travel but are more likely to stay local.
4. Travelers are also looking to maximize the value that they get. This goes two ways: some travelers are willing to pay a bit more to get more out of their trip. But other travelers, especially those who might be experiencing economic uncertainty, are motivated by deals.
5. Travelers are actively seeking destination timing and guidance. They want to understand local restrictions and they want to get a sense of how safe a destination is before they book a trip.
Jennifer Andre, senior director, business development with Expedia Group Media Solutions shared how we are helping destinations recover-once the time is right. We’re seeing a lot of early success with a new product: Travel Spotlights. This product allows travel brands to engage with travel shoppers through editorial-like content. Travel Spotlights are an elegant landing page experience that leverages dynamic formats such as video, quizzes, and rich imagery.
During a time with marketers are being asked to do more with less, we’re also seeing destinations have success using Co-Op Campaigns. These group campaigns can take many forms but typically involve a DMO partnering with multiple hotels to run a campaign. Co-Op Campaigns extend marketing dollars and allow advertisers to both maximize their exposure and engage travel shoppers with a custom landing page.
Finally, we’re helping DMOs engage vacation rental travel shoppers. There is incredible pent up demand for vacation rentals because travelers want to stay local, stay safe, and see family. Media Solutions recently launched ads on Vrbo so that advertisers—from destinations and hotels, to airlines and car rentals, to financial services and consumer goods—can connect with its valuable audience of travelers who are looking to book vacation homes, cabins, and condos.
We offer a wide range of products that can help marketers, no matter where they are in their recovery and can make tailored recommendations as to which product(s) might help achieve specific marketing goals.
To top off our Insights Summit at the Annual Convention, we heard from representatives from three destination marketing organizations: Sarah Finstad, regional managing director, north America, Destination Canada, Charles Harris, chief marketing officer and executive vice president of public affairs with Visit Anaheim, and Fletch Brunelle, vice president of marketing, Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.
We asked our panel of destination marketing leaders to speak to their COVID-19 coping strategies and share with us how they are adapting and reprioritizing their marketing activities.
Fletch with Las Vegas spoke to some of the campaigns that they have been running over the last few months. They are working to convey the measures that hotels and restaurants are taking to keep visitors safe and want visitors to know that Las Vegas will be ready for travelers whenever they decide to return. Charles of Visit Anaheim said that they have been engaging more with locals than ever before via the creation of organic content.Sarah of Destination Canada explained that as a national tourism marketing organization, they are investing $30M back into the marketing organizations that are local and hyperlocal and operating with the goal of helping travelers and communities feel comfortable again.
When it comes to data, all DMOs, no matter their size, are trying to understand if people are looking to travel to their region at all. They are staying closely attuned to search trends with their advertising partners because search has a high correlation with intent to travel. These early signals also help them know when they can start to think about marketing.
“We want to know what stage the potential travelers are in and what type of marketing efforts we should be undertaking. We also need to understand the state of our communities…We cannot actively promote a region if they are not open and ready to market,” said Sarah. Fletch explained that, “we were working on driving inspiration even when the market was not open yet.” As Vegas opens, they are looking at measuring what potential visitors are thinking and, based on their behaviors and attitudes, trying to craft an appropriate and compelling message. Looking to the future, Charles shared that when Anaheim does re-launch their marketing efforts, they will not be holding themselves to the number of visitors that they’ve reached in previous years. But, as in years past, they will measure both conversions and engagement across various channels.
What we’ve heard from our destination marketing partners is that they want to know what they can be doing now to drive awareness with travelers and how they should be planning for the future. Because no two destinations are alike, all recovery plans will look different. We’ve been partnering with DMOs throughout the crisis to share best practices and help them achieve their goals – even during these challenging times. Continue refining your recovery plan; listen in on critical conversations from industry experts on how the travel industry is responding to and recovering from COVID-19 with our on-demand webinar series.