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Navigating the tricky travel marketing landscape

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postedNovember 28, 2020

During vTREX, NTA’s online conference in November, travel industry professionals got to hear more about the difficult, but crucial, task of marketing during COVID. During her two-part seminar, “Hands-on: How to Market and Sell in a Pandemic Economy,” Shawna Suckow of The Buyer Insider offered a number of tips for tour operators, tour suppliers, and destination professionals.

“Things are changing so quickly with COVID,” she said. “This is the fastest-moving revolution, both culturally and consumer-wise, we’ve ever experienced, and that impacts what you say to your customers.”

The first part of the session was more instructional, while in the second part, members were put into smaller groups to discuss their current challenges and techniques to move forward.

Suckow focused the instructional part on the impacts of the current cultural shift and how “splintering” among consumers makes marketing to travelers difficult. She said the main shift is in how casual people have become during COVID, both personally and professionally.

“There are many ways in which we are becoming less formal and less professional, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing because it allows us to be more real and more authentic,” Suckow said. “Another factor in the U.S. is splintering; there is political splintering, geographical splintering, belief-in-science splintering. People are very sensitive now, and that means we have to be extra careful in our marketing.”

She offered three suggestions to help travel marketers “grow with their clients.”

  1. Connect better — Consider where your clients are emotionally and what splinters are impacting them.
  2. Be more curious — Most people have time on their hands, so have longer conversations with your customers.
  3. Diversify your messaging — A more personal and caring approach can help you cut through the noise.

Suckow showed examples of different ads from travel brands and pointed out six themes that are more likely to resonate with a broader cross-section of travelers, regardless of what splinter groups they are part of:

  • Optimism
  • Family and friends
  • Nature
  • Laughter
  • Safety
  • Nostalgia — for instance, “The Great American Roadtrip”

“Tour messaging needs to be adaptive, and it likely will be different month by month,” she said. “Keep those six keys in mind, because they are fairly universal, although safety is tricky because you’ve got some people who are already traveling regularly and others who won’t be ready to travel for another six to 12 months.”

Keep watching NTA’s weekly e-newsletter, Tuesday, for recaps of additional vTREX seminars.

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