How to Develop a Brand Strategy for the Post-COVID-19 Traveler

Brought to you by WBR Insights.

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Every industry felt the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Offices shut down and employees shifted to working from home. In-store retail sales slumped, so retailers shifted their strategies to meet the increased demand for home-shipped orders and curbside pickup.

But no industry felt the impact of the pandemic quite like the travel industry.

According to the U.S. Travel association, travel spending in the U.S. totaled only $679 billion in 2020, a 42% annual decline from 2019. Globally, the tourism industry saw a loss of $935 billion.

Thankfully, there is light at the end of the tunnel. With vaccine campaigns accelerating across the world, the travel industry is anticipating a resurgence in both business and personal travel over the next year. Travelers themselves are also anxious to get back to globetrotting—one survey found that 70% of leisure travelers plan to spend at the same levels or higher when travel opens again.

After a year of disruption, travel brands can't go back to business as usual. Instead, they must prepare their brand strategies for the expectations of a new type of traveler—one that is more conscious of safety, sustainability, and how they can mix business and leisure.

Travelers are More Safety-Conscious

Due to safety concerns, many individual travelers chose to drive to destinations in 2020 rather than fly, where possible. But as travelers begin to take to the skies again, they'll continue to be conscious about health risks at airports, train stations, hotels, and venues.

According to PwC, 43% of all travel consumers are likely to spend more on travel if they can confirm physical distancing on their next flight. That percentage rises to 55% for younger consumers and 60% for families with children.

To meet travelers' expectations, travel and hospitality brands must make it clear that they take their customer's health and safety seriously. This may require some masking and distancing guidelines to remain in place until health authorities state that most people are inoculated against COVID-19.

However, there are other steps travel brands can take to improve health and safety from a brand perspective.

Travelers like to be able to have some control over their environment when they travel, especially when risks of infection are a concern. Be sure to highlight the safety precautions and options available to your customers. Complimentary products like hand sanitizer and masks can go a long way, as can cleaning and sanitation routines in enclosed spaces.

Sustainability Will Drive Travel Decisions

Sustainable travel has become an important topic in the industry, but it's no longer a novelty concept. Travelers are increasingly demanding sustainable travel options. The most recent example was a growing movement of "flight shaming," in which consumers called out airlines' polluting planes and veered toward more sustainable options like traveling by train.

According to a study by, 69% of U.S. travelers identified sustainable travel as important to them, while 53% said they were more determined to make sustainable choices when looking to travel again in the future. However, 41% of U.S. travelers don't know how or where to find sustainable travel options and 51% think there aren't enough sustainable travel options available.

Travel organizations have an opportunity to adopt sustainable practices wherever possible and promote them as part of their branding. Providing travelers with more sustainable choices can differentiate the brand as an environmentally friendly option on the market.

"Bleisure" Travel Will Become More Common

Although leisure travel declined during the pandemic, business travel rebounded somewhat as airports, hotels, and travel companies adjusted their practices to the new realities of COVID-19.

According to McKinsey & Company, business travel "will eventually return—but in phases." Regional travel by car has already begun to pick up. Domestic business travel should rebound next, followed by international travel.

But "Bleisure" travel, the trend of combining business trips with leisure activities, was already a growing phenomenon before the pandemic struck. In 2019, as many as 75% of business travelers extended their business trips to engage in leisure activities.

As business travel—especially international travel—will be slow to recover, brands must expect business travelers to take advantage of their time away from home and engage in leisure activities. Consider adjusting your marketing strategies to engage with these types of travelers. They may be more interested in spontaneous excursions rather than carefully planned trips, and they'll likely want opportunities to unwind after being away on business.

Traveling Post-COVID-19: Adapting Strategies for a New Travel Economy

There are still serious concerns about the long-term impacts of COVID-19 on the travel industry. But there are also plenty of opportunities for travel and hospitality organizations to steer their branding toward the needs of tomorrow's unique travelers.

For more insights into how you can realign your brand strategy to the new travel economy, join us on May 4 - 5, 2021, for our virtual event, "Traveling Post-COVID: Adapting Strategies for a New Travel Economy."

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