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How brands can help people feel comfortable traveling again

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It’s up to travel brands to help consumers feel safe enough to plan trips, which means they must find new ways to engage people who are stuck at home.

A summer void of the usual reasons to travel - weddings, music festivals, corporate events, vacations, and everything in between - has led to roughly $350 billion in cumulative losses for the U.S. travel industry and left companies scrambling to stay afloat.

Although the travel industry isn’t expected to make a full financial recovery until 2024, there are some positive signs of recovery. The airline sector, which experienced the lowest domestic average airfare price on record in the first quarter of 2020, saw a pandemic peak of 832,000 passenger screenings in early August. While year-over-year numbers are still down dramatically, this uptick in air travel serves as a good proxy for growing consumer confidence.

Additionally, a recent survey reveals that people want to travel. Over 55% of consumers say that taking a vacation in the next six months would bring them happiness. However, it’s up to travel brands to help consumers feel safe enough to plan trips, which means they must find new ways to engage people who are stuck at home. Here’s how they can accomplish that:

1. Emphasize the outdoors.
Montana, Wyoming, and South Dakota are seeing the smallest decreases in year-over-year bookings. At the other end of the spectrum, flights to New York are down 83% as travelers eschew big cities for remote, outdoorsy destinations. This trend makes sense: Infection is more likely in close quarters than in the woods. As such, brands should place a heavy emphasis on
outdoor activities.

2. Reach out to road trippers.
Cars allow travelers to control their environment in a way that planes don’t. More than 70% of people say they would likely travel by car during the next six months, and 23% say they’d be willing to make a one-way drive of more than 500 miles to do so. Confidence in air travel won’t return overnight, so brands should pay special attention to road trippers and those within driving distance.

3. Offer flexible booking.
Now more than ever, travelers want certainty and peace of mind. Many companies, including cruise lines, airlines, and hotel chains, have noticed and rolled out flexible booking policies that allow for last-minute changes or cancellations without penalty. Brands must continue to show empathy to consumers during this difficult time and give them less to worry about as they plan upcoming adventures.

4. Leverage experiential hospitality.
Experiential hospitality was a breakout trend in 2019, with brands such as Taco Bell and Oscar Mayer using overnight stays to extend engagement with their most loyal consumers. In 2020, the tactic is still alive and well. At Kennebunkport, Maine’s Yachtsman Hotel and Marina Club,

Sperry offers a “Therapy By the Sea” package with a 10% discount on a two-night stay at the hotel and complimentary boat shoes, cocktails, and kayak rentals. For those unable to get away, Stella Artois’ Hotel Artois at Home" experience includes a personalized itinerary, minibar with snacks, room service care package, and tablet to facilitate virtual interactions with celebrities. Not all consumers are comfortable traveling yet, so brands will need to meet consumers where they are. With people tired of being cooped up in their homes, it’s up to travel brands to give them opportunities to stretch their legs.

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