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Travel In A Not-So-Normal Fall: What We’re Seeing

When we started compiling data for this post, its tentative working title was “Post-Pandemic Travel Trends.” At the time, all signs pointed to a return to normal being just around the corner. People were rolling up their sleeves to get vaccinated; they were hugging their loved ones and beginning to plan for the months ahead. Plane tickets were booked and adventures were plotted. But then…things, once again, have not gone quite according to plan. There was the alpha variant, then beta, and most recently and troublingly delta (with lambda starting to ripples in South America as we speak). Vaccination uptake in some places has fallen short of expectations. Oh, and did we mention breakthrough infections? 

The degree to which Delta and his nefarious friends have shaken things up only underscores the lesson we’ve learned over the past year and a half. It’s very difficult to make solid predictions about what’s coming around the bend. So we’re writing a post that’s based not on wild guesses, or on how we think things will be, but on what we’re actually seeing and hearing from our clients across North America. We’re looking at the data we have, and sharing the trends we’re seeing—but accepting that we, and travel brands everywhere, need to be ready for the unexpected. In this time we’re living in, few industries need to be as nimble as the travel industry. 

Though the uncertainty we’re seeing makes many more wary about travelling, borders around the world have opened, or are opening. Travel seems to be back, even if it doesn’t look quite like it used to. 

Here’s what we’re seeing going into the fall. 

 

Guests want to travel with their pets. 

Industry-wide, and discussed at last month’s Skift conference, there has been an increase in the desire to travel with pets. What we’re seeing with our clients supports this trend. For instance, some of our clients’ best-performing Facebook ads over the past few months have been ones that reference pet friendliness. 

What’s behind this? We can only speculate. Lots of people have adopted new pets during the pandemic—if you’ve tried to adopt a rescue dog since 2020, you know the degree to which demand has exceeded supply—and available pet sitters and dog walkers are hard to come by. If you can’t leave your dog at home, he has to come with you. Maybe people enjoy the emotional benefits of having their pets accompany them on their trips. 

Takeaway for Hospitality Brands

For hotels wanting to stay competitive amongst guests who travel with pets in tow, it’s not just about allowing their furry friends. You need to welcome pets, anticipating the needs of the animals and their owners. Do you offer amenities or services with Fido in mind, whether that’s a pet bath, dog dishes, or welcome treats? If you don’t, it might be time to start. And if you’re already pet-friendly, make sure you’re telling that story in your ads and social content so you catch the eye of would-be guests looking for places that welcome their canine companions. 

 

Many are still staying close to home.

Last year, it was often inconceivable to leave our own property. Today, most people are much more comfortable leaving—their city, their region and even their province/state—but many are still reluctant to jump on a long-haul flight. 

We’ve seen a surge in visits to non-urban properties within a manageable driving distance from major cities in the US. Overall, that seems to be the direction travellers tend to be moving—from bigger cities to more rural locales. In 2020, we shared a Google Trends article in which we showed how rural properties are more in demand than city ones. And that continues today. A good example from here in Canada: at times in the last few months, searches for “Banff hotels” have overtaken searches for “Toronto hotels.”  

Takeaway for Hospitality Brands

Focus your time—and budget—on attracting guests who can get to you by car. Concentrate your ad buy on markets from which people can drive—especially any nearby urban centres. You can also monitor SEO rankings from people in those markets. For instance, instead of worrying about whether you rank on page one for “Upstate New York wedding venue” nationwide, focus your SEO strategy on ranking in those drive markets. (Not sure how to do that? We can help.)

 

Weddings remain smaller and more intimate. 

For couples who don’t want to wait a year or two or more to host all their people in the same space, elopements are a great option—so it’s no surprise that they continue to be more popular than they were pre-pandemic. Though some of the properties we work with are starting to see renewed interest in big weddings starting in 2022, we expect that intimate packages will likely remain attractive as long as the pandemic continues to throw curveballs our way, and beyond. 

Takeaway for Hospitality Brands

It’s worth spending some time perfecting your elopement or intimate wedding package. Make it something special enough that brides and grooms can (almost) forget that it may not be the wedding they had envisioned in pre-pandemic times. 

 

Corporate travel is coming back. 

Generally speaking, travel has been slower to rebound in Canada than in the United States, and that is equally true in the corporate travel sector. Here in Canada, our clients aren’t seeing as many business events booked; in the US, on the other hand, businesses seem to have reached the end of their rope on Zoom meetings and are green-lighting more corporate travel, at least compared to last year. For this one we’ll turn to the predictions of an expert (take them for what they’re worth). In July, McKinsey projected that regional business travel and trips directly related to sales will be the fastest to bounce back, with international travel and travel for conferences—and particularly international conference travel—the slowest to return to pre-pandemic levels. 

Takeaway for Hospitality Brands

Corporate travel bookers are going to want to ensure that you’re doing everything in your power to keep guests safe. No one needs an outbreak on their team. Make sure your meeting venues are equipped to comply with the latest COVID-19 requirements in your region—and, where possible, consider additional options that go above and beyond what’s required. Then, your website should reflect your response to the pandemic so those booking can do so with confidence. It might also be worth revisiting your SEO strategy for corporate travel, and focusing on more regional markets for now. 

 

It might be time to rethink your digital advertising strategy (again). 

Last year, we saw OTAs pull way back on their search advertising, allowing us to stop running branded campaigns for many clients. In other words, for our (fictional!) Hawaiian client The White Lotus (any fans out there?), we wouldn’t have needed to run an ad for the keywords “White Lotus Hawaii” to compete with the OTAs. Within OTAs running ads on those search terms, the resort’s website would have shown up at the top organically. Unfortunately, that’s changed back to what we saw pre-pandemic: OTAs are once again running ads, and we, on behalf of our clients, are forced to compete with them. (The good news, though, is that we at Wallop are pretty darn good at it!)  

In spite of the return of rampant OTA advertising, some of our clients are reporting a continued decline in OTA bookings. At the beginning of the pandemic, most saw an increase in OTA bookings versus direct, but now we’re pleased to say direct bookings are back in full force with some properties not needing to even list themselves on OTAs. If you work in hospitality, you know why that’s great news. 

Meanwhile, we’re seeing more advertisers across the board, running more ads, so brands’ CPCs (cost per click) are up. 

Takeaway for Hospitality Brands

If you want your property to show up on prospective guests’ Google searches, and not spend a fortune to make that happen, you need to get strategic. Or maybe you need a partner who knows all the OTAs tricks? If so, you’re in the right place. If you don’t already work with Wallop on digital marketing, we’d love to have a chat about it.