Missed an episode of Chatfuel School, the podcast where we cover hot topics in the world of bot-building and marketing? Don't worry; we took notes for you. 🤓 The topic for July 17, 2020 was advice for travel marketers and travel brands during COVID-19. Here's the full episode. 👇 Keep scrolling for a recap of what you missed + extra advice on the topic.

In 2019, the global travel industry was flourishing like never before. ✈️ It contributed a record $8.8 trillion and 319 million jobs to the world economy. More people were out exploring the world last year than in any year before. But of course, the coronavirus pandemic turned the travel sector completely upside down.

Tourists and business travelers around the world have had to cancel flights, cruises, tours, and plans for domestic and international travel over the past several months. Total travel spending is projected to fall by almost 50% by the end of this year. That's billions of dollars not spent on tourism in 2020, ushering in a phase the US Travel Association has dubbed "The Great Travel Depression."

The numbers may seem dismal, but there's still hope and optimism in the travel community. Many travel businesses and travel marketers have already shown remarkable adaptability in the face of the pandemic. To help your travel business or clients through the age of COVID-19, look to these six tips from brands in the travel and tourism industry that have managed to stay afloat and even thrive.

#1. Acknowledge the situation and stay visible.

Rule number one for brands responding to a crisis: You have to actually respond! As crisis communications expert Timothy Coombs put it on a past episode of Chatfuel School, "Don't ghost your stakeholders." Design a social marketing strategy that acknowledges the pandemic and its impact on your travel business and your customers. Make sure to be sensitive to their needs, emotions, and concerns at this time.

Travel media company Skift has made this a key component of their COVID-19 response strategy. Lisa Omagiri, SkiftX's Editorial Director, explains how they've been producing "content that directly addresses the pandemic and offers practical tips on how to tackle today's challenges"—like reports and white papers. Lisa shares that engagement on this kind of content "has been above and beyond our typical benchmarks." That proves it's what audiences crave right now: "accurate and contextually relevant information to help them take action," in Lisa's words.

Skift helps travel industry
In 2020, travel marketers at Skift have been creating useful, relevant content that addresses the pandemic and gives advice for travel businesses.

Above all, just make sure your travel brand continues to communicate with its audience to stay on their minds, establish credibility, and build trust and loyalty. "In times of crisis," says Lisa, "brands who stay present while their competitors retrench win in the long term." Bryan Del Monte, President of The Aviation Agency and guest on this episode of Chatfuel School, agrees. "You can't take your foot off the gas," he says. "Those that advertise during economic downturns grow and survive, and those that pull back usually don't."

All kinds of travel brands can put out this type of helpful, relevant content, even if it's not as in-depth as Skift's reports. Your hospitality marketing strategy just has to acknowledge the situation and share any information you can that'll be relevant to your audience. For example:

  • An airline could share an infographic guide to safe travel during the pandemic. This would demonstrate their concern for passenger safety, and give readers actionable advice for staying safe.
a guide to help travelers
Rochester International Airport released a guide to help travelers know what to expect when passing through their airport.
  • A cruise line could post a video tour of the new health and sanitation practices they've incorporated on their ships to prepare for guests. This would address guests' safety concerns, helping them feel confident and excited about booking future travel.
  • A luggage brand could do a giveaway of a suitcase set, asking entrants to share a photo of their favorite travel memory or vote on their dream destination. Content like this would bring their audience together and build anticipation for future trips.

#2. Focus on cleanliness and safety.

Of course, everyone's goal right now is to avoid contracting and spreading the virus. A survey of 1,000 travelers done by the Travel Professor reflects this. It found that, when it comes to resuming air travel, 59% of them are most concerned about "health and safety." There's no doubt about it: Cleanliness and safety are top-of-mind for travel-industry audiences. That's why travel marketers need to share the measures their companies are taking to keep customers and employees safe.

Take Southwest Airlines, for example. Their website has a page dedicated to this topic. It explains their new policies on disinfecting the planes and enforcing social distancing. This information helps give travelers peace of mind when booking a flight.

Southwest Airlines has a page on their website dedicated to their health and safety precautions during the pandemic.

Travel-related ecommerce brands and brick-and-mortar stores should address health and safety, too. Away, a luggage brand, is one that's doing this well. They have information on their website about the measures they're taking to protect customers and employees during COVID-19. The fact that they're working to protect both groups shows that they care, which encourages prospects to shop and helps promote trust and loyalty long-term.

Luggage brand Away shares information about how they're keeping customers and employees safe during the pandemic.

Some brands in the hospitality industry have also enlisted the help of technology to protect their customers during the pandemic. Take Bonomi, for example, a startup that builds Messenger chatbots for hotels. Their bots allow hotels to provide a contactless guest experience, since it can take care of most questions and concerns without involving a human agent. That means guests and employees don't need to interact face-to-face, reducing the risk of virus transmission. Implementing tech solutions like this will show customers you've gone above and beyond to invest in their safety.

#3. Improve your customer service.

It's one key way you can help provide guidance to your customers in these highly uncertain times. In 2020, your audience has a lot of questions, like:

  • Will I get a refund for my canceled cruise?
  • How do I cancel my tour package?
  • Is it safe to fly with you right now? What precautions are you taking?
  • Will there be delays shipping my item because of COVID-19?

Do everything you can to provide fast, friendly, and informative answers to questions like these. Again, it'll show customers that they're your top priority right now. It'll create a high-quality service experience that they'll remember in the future when they're choosing which travel brands to support.

Hussein Fazal, CEO of hotel-deals site SnapTravel, shares how they've made support available to customers. "We've added COVID-19 messaging and notifications throughout the product, and have been encouraging customers to chat with a live agent if they have concerns. We also believe in meeting customers where they're already spending time," he continues, "which allows us to build a relationship with them over time on the platform they choose."

SnapTravel has COVID-19 information readily available on their website, and they also provide 24/7 support across platforms for customers with concerns.

If you're looking to increase your availability and boost your response times, consider building a Messenger chatbot for your travel brand. There's no coding knowledge necessary and no credit card required to build a free bot with Chatfuel. In an afternoon, you can get a bot up and running to answer FAQs 24/7, for example. Then, you can link it to your Facebook page or your website so it can handle most customer inquiries for you instantly and on autopilot. (Get started for free today! 🤖)

#4. Pivot.

As Jessica Hagedorn put it, "Adaptability is the simple secret of survival," for humans and businesses alike. To run a successful travel business in 2020 and beyond, you can't keep the same strategies that worked in 2019. Rye Smith, Managing Director of a marketing agency called Spruik Digital, explains: "A lot of businesses have had to reinvent themselves and offer different products, experiences, or tours to suit this changing world." He shares two key ways travel brands have started to do this:

Focusing on local. 📍"I believe that the future is local," says Rye. "More people are starting to discover their own backyard, which presents amazing opportunities for the local tourism dollar." Instead of enticing customers towards adventures in exotic travel destinations, think about how you can help them see the beauty in their own city, region, or country. After all, "travel is about immersion and experiences," Rye explains. With a little creativity, tour companies can find ways to provide these for locals in their own areas.

Offering custom packages to smaller groups. ⚙️ "Smaller, more bespoke packages have become the basis of much success here in Australia and New Zealand," says Rye, "and smaller group sizes are becoming the norm." It makes perfect sense: In pandemic times, most customers will feel safer in smaller groups. That gives your travel brand the opportunity to design more customized tourism packages for these groups. You can charge a premium for them, and you'll end up with happier customers, because the experience will be tailored to their interests.

When promoting their Experiences, Airbnb focuses on small group sizes as a selling point—both for safety and enjoyment.

The smaller-group strategy also applies to niches like air travel, which explains why private jet and helicopter companies have seen an uptick in demand this year. "On a private jet, everybody is together. Usually it's your family or close friends with you, so you can trace where everybody has been," explains Susan Fibri, CEO of Corporate Flight Attendant Training & Consulting and guest on this episode of Chatfuel School.

#5. Go virtual.

This year, everything from meetings to classes to weddings have gone virtual. Many brands in the travel and hospitality industry have followed suit, too. Skift is one such example. Lisa Omagiri explains that they've "transformed [their] world-renowned forums to virtual events and launched a new livestream series." They even implemented a "pay-what-you-want model" to earn revenue from these events. That means their virtual offerings give their audience a new way to engage with them, and keep the dollars flowing in. It's a strategy that can work for all kinds of different travel brands.

Skift now offers pay-what-you-want virtual events to engage its audience in a new way during the pandemic.

Like Skift, you might choose to adapt your business's in-person events to virtual ones, like moving conferences and classes online. That's what travel marketers for brands like Withlocals have done to continue generating revenue from the experiences they offer. Many of them are now in an online format.

Withlocals now offers online experiences too. They're led by local hosts from around the world and can be enjoyed with friends from anywhere.

Or, you can create new virtual experiences to entertain and inform your audience until they can travel again, keeping your brand top of mind in the meantime. That's what Discover Puerto Rico, a website encouraging tourism to this travel destination, is focusing on. They're offering salsa dancing lessons on Zoom, and virtual classes to teach viewers how to make Puerto Rican cocktails. These experiences are free, and they help build anticipation for future travel to Puerto Rico.

Discover Puerto Rico has created a series of free virtual events to get its audience excited about future travel to the island.

#6. Do deep discounts.

Bringing in some revenue—any revenue—is top priority for many travel brands right now. To that end, some have started offering deep discounts on their products or services just to get customers in the door. This tactic can be effective because it taps into two key human desires:

  • saving money by getting a deal
  • avoiding FOMO (the fear of missing out)

Norwegian Cruise lines is one example of a travel business that's harnessing both of these emotions to generate revenue. Even though none of their cruises will be setting sail until after October 2020, their travel marketers are generating hype (and sales) through advertising.

Facebook ads like the one below focus on the discounts guests can get if they book future cruises now. Norwegian has also released promotional videos for their most beautiful destinations to trigger FOMO in their audience and earn bookings that way. Plus, the positive tone they use for both tactics builds anticipation and optimism for a hopefully brighter travel future, which all travelers are looking for right now.

Norwegian Cruise Line's ads during COVID-19 offer deep discounts for future travel.

The new future of travel

We're all dreaming of the days when leisure travel will be back on the table. But in all likelihood, it'll look different than before. So to keep your travel brand afloat now and set it up for success in the future, you've got to adjust to the new normal.

Travel marketer? We want to help your business through the COVID-19 pandemic. Browse our free resources and programs here. Then, find out how a Messenger bot can benefit your brand during these times. Finally, take advantage of the functions of Chatfuel to build a chatbot for free today—then upgrade to Pro when you're ready to scale and claim your exclusive perks (like priority support, unlimited users, and more!).