Retriggering Spontaneity Is Key to Reviving the Travel Industry

With a projected 45% decline in revenues (half a trillion dollars!) last year, it’s no surprise that the travel industry is happy to put 2020 in the rearview mirror. The left side of the brain was firmly in charge among would-be travelers throughout the year, as COVID-19 fears, economic worries and other concerns kept people home. The good news is, there are signs of a turnaround in 2021, and nudging travelers to reengage the right side of their brains—the side responsible for spontaneity—can help accelerate that trend.

The increasing availability of effective COVID-19 vaccines is a major development, of course, and positive news on this front spurred a rebound in travel-related stocks late last year. But even before that, there were strong indicators of pent-up travel demand. A PwC survey in July showed that once consumers had taken their first trip in the pandemic era, they became more willing to travel again: 58% expected to book additional air travel within three months, and 74% planned to stay at a brand-name hotel. Both numbers were more than double the percentages among consumers who had not traveled yet.

In September, Skift Research and McKinsey & Company released another report that found “signs of latent demand for travel” in both the leisure and business travel segments. The report recommends four critical actions for travel brands, starting with understanding their customers as “microsegments, not monoliths.” Travel companies should also take a wider view of what constitutes the customer journey, create new partnerships to restore travelers’ confidence and seize this “reset moment” to embrace agility and nimbleness, the report suggests.

Balancing Safety and Spontaneity

The real challenge for travel brands in 2021 will be finding ways to balance the message that it’s once again safe to go out with compelling offers that will trigger people’s spontaneity and make them want to travel again. The best way to do that is on a hyper-local level.

For example, when a hotel has unused capacity, it could offer special deals—maybe 25% off the standard rate—to local residents, who may never have stayed there before. Messaging could stress the convenience and safety of a local drive versus the challenges of an airport and the confined space of a long flight. The package could be positioned as a mini-vacation, a respite from the maelstrom of Zoom meetings, home-schooling and household chores that so many have been juggling for months. An inclusive offer might combine dining and other experiences, with the itinerary pre-planned for the customer at a package price.

Household targeting based on IP addresses is a key element for this approach. Marketing partners can use data to identify people who have already traveled during the pandemic (and so are likely to be more confident about additional travel) and focus on those households with their messaging. For travel brands with a national/international footprint, it’s a great first step to familiarize customers with their safety protocols and build awareness for when they are ready to resume more far-flung travel.

Local Is King Right Now

The wide range of closings and restrictions in different locations across the country is another argument for targeting on a household level with localized messaging and tailored creative. In markets just emerging from lockdown, creative could stress safety protocols and the fact that it’s safe to travel again. In more open markets, the messaging might be more focused on amenities, convenience or price.

Addressable TV has a big role to play in these efforts, with 72% of U.S. households reachable by programmatic connected TV (CTV)/over-the-top (OTT) advertising as of Q3 2020, up from 59% in Q1. CTV enables different versions of the same ad to be served to different households. Nielsen reports that total hours spent with CTV devices was up more than 80% through the first half of 2020, averaging about 12.5 billion hours a month. CTV also gives marketers the ability to drive prospects to a more mobile, personalized experience where they can interact with different messaging.

The prospect of jam-packed airports, sold-out flights and fully booked hotels may exist only in a far-off future right now, but a growing number of people, worn down by the pandemic and confinement, are anxious to start traveling again. A smart strategy combining the right content, creative and data can help travel brands begin their own journey back to normalcy.




As Vice President of Account Planning, Jim is responsible for leveraging’s consumer research and insights to develop holistic digital marketing strategies aimed at guiding clients toward their desired outcomes. Prior to joining (formerly Exponential), Jim worked as a Media Planner with Carat on brands including Reebok, VH1, RadioShack and Motorola. He has also worked at Boston University as an event planner and financial advisor, roles he held while simultaneously earning an M.S in Advertising from the College of Communication. Jim earned his B.A in Journalism from Keene State College, splitting time between undergraduate studies and the United States Marine Corps Reserve.