Fuel Travel recently surveyed over 10,000 travelers about their post-COVID 19 travel plans. The survey–one of the widest-reaching to date–uncovers important insights for hotel and resort marketers and revenue leaders.
Notably, that nearly 70% of people have had vacation plans disrupted. This, plus quarantine frustrations, are stoking travel demand. The question is: where, when, and how will leisure travel emerge?
Based on Fuel’s study, interviews with industry leaders, and Navis’ client website traffic reports, drive markets offer the likeliest near-term revenue opportunity.
Capturing Drive Market Business
Few travelers want to get on an airplane, but in the next three months, 69% of travelers say they will drive up to two hours for vacation. Almost 40% say they will travel within one month of loosened restrictions. [See Figure 1, below]
To capitalize on this reentrance, properties need to focus on: marketing and revenue strategy, messaging, and booking channels.
Establishing “worry-free” travel experiences is critical, shares Chris Jackson, Principal & Chief Evangelist at GCommerce. This means promoting traveler-friendly cancellation or change policies and reinforcing health and safety measures. Consider other issues for local travelers; public transit access, self-parking, in-and-out privileges, and pets.
Marketers must position their property as an ideal getaway for cooped-up guests. After months of sheltering-in-place, people long for nature, space, and fresh air. Highlight these, where possible.
Similarly, build on the romanticism of a road trip. Alise Deeb, VP of Revenue at Strategies at Dragonfly Strategists shares how after 9/11, “smart properties found success bundling gas cards, or car snacks, car washes, and activities into their offerings.”
Other focus areas include:
Local Search Optimization:
Keep local directory listings like Google My Business up-to-date with your hours and opening. These are a first stop for web and mobile traffic – especially those using maps as they drive. Include dining availability too; for example, if you’ve introduced takeout or expanded in-room options.
Paid Search and Social:
Emphasize geo-targeting in paid search campaigns. As you plan, remember: guests want to travel for less than a half day, to make weekend trips worthwhile. This means that typical drive markets are 150-200 miles, or 3-4 hours, from a property.
Think like a restless guest. Search terms like “hotel staycations near me”, or “market name + hotels open” work. Also, ensure ad copy relevancy. Promote with phrases like “Weekend Getaway,” and “Just a Short Drive Away”. These may entice hesitant prospects who aren’t yet comfortable with a full-fledged vacation.
A cost-effective channel for deeper targeting is Facebook. First, segment your email database based on drive-market proximity, and then upload it. You can build a custom audience to promote a special offering, and/or retarget prospects based on location or dates of interest.
Consider niche trip planning sites like RoadTrippers or TripMaker. These sites work with hotels and resorts on product integrations, native content, and experiential social content – and offer a way to get your property featured.
[For more tips on effective geo-targeting, check out Fuel’s how-to guide for targeting drive markets.]
Location segmentation can be used for social, as well as email marketing. In particular, consider shopping cart abandonment. Leads can be pushed into NAVIS or another CRM, triggering automated follow-up emails. Reservation sales teams can then act.
Meta Search Marketing:
Many properties have paused their metasearch campaigns. This means: it’s reasonably cheap to stand out on sites like TripAdvisor or Trivago.
Website Content & Messaging
Subtleties in content and messaging may be the difference between a booking and a prospect staying home. Consider guests’ psyches; it takes guts to venture out when fear and uncertainty are rampant. Your prospects are bold but still human. Easing any concerns around health, safety, and accessibility may draw them out.
As well, update website schema and structured data markup to reflect policies, hours, and amenities for those planning a trip and take advantage of voice search and zero positions.
Growing interest in drive market travel underscores the importance of mobile booking experiences. La Quinta’s Deeb advises adding mobile rates targeting last-minute travelers through select OTAs. Expect an uptick in the use of platforms like Hotel Tonight and Expedia Mobile – some travelers will simply get in the car and find a destination on the road.
Voice Channel Strategies
Arm your reservation teams with up-to-date, local knowledge. Consider a daily team briefing covering CDC guidance, the status of popular attractions, dining availability, and similar market updates. Where there are issues and closures, prepare agents with a viable list of alternatives. Every market is different; assuaging the concerns of out-of-town travelers–even if they are just a few hours away – is essential.
One of the most effective ways to convert leads is personalized, friendly, human-to-human interaction. This is true in any market; however, it’s essential in a season of crisis. Guests want to talk to someone; they want assurance that the property is safe, that activities are available, that published hours and sanitation policies are accurate. They want to know that the getaway they need is exactly what they’ll get.
Agents must prioritize thoughtful, personal conversation. Ask questions, capture and track responses. Of course, once concerns have been addressed, ask for the sale. If prospects don’t book: offer a concierge-style call back the next day. Agents can’t depend on online leads, they must prioritize inbound and outbound voice.Read our latest blog, Reopening Strategies for Reservation Sales, for more strategies on how to prepare your team and convert on the demand you are getting.
Revenue Management Strategies
Reassess your competition:
In a recent webinar, Garth Peterson of IDeaS talked about rethinking your comp set. As air travel declines and “staycations” grow, every property in your local drive market becomes a competitor. Reassess your target guest; what offerings and messages will connect? Historically, the road traveler who craves space may not be your target, but with a reduced pool of leads, they are now.
Localized packages instead of discounts:
According to Fuel’s study, discounts and offers are two of top three motivators for travelers today. Deep discounting is unsustainable, so shift to value adds. These may include partnerships with local attractions, or subsidized food delivery if dining is unavailable.
Learn from past campaigns:
Identify what channels and campaign content drove local market traffic in the past. You can repurpose language, offers, and content themes–plus other available insight–to target drive market travelers and optimize channel mix.
Hospitality research company Skift suggests that “Drive-to locations will probably be the biggest and earliest beneficiary in a recovery.” CNBC believes that recovery will be slow, careful and phased – and will start close by. “The signs of a new normal will be parents taking their kids to the zoo. From there, they’ll venture a little further for a night away from home.”
If a property is accustomed to destination and air travel, it’s time to pivot. The opportunity to fill beds is in the local, staycation, and drive-market business.
Chris Jackson, Chief Evangelist at GCommerce
Chris is the Principal and Chief Evangelist of GCommerce, a hospitality-focused digital marketing agency. Chris brings more than 25 years of digital marketing and hotel operations experience, with the last 17 years spent with GCommerce. Chris is a recognized digital marketing strategist and industry thought leader. He understands the challenges many hotel owners and operators face from his extensive background in hotel operations as a General Manager of numerous upscale hotels and resorts, prior to joining GCommerce. His combined experience of operations and digital marketing allows him to effectively apply a marketing strategy to overcome pressing industry and property level challenges.
Caryl Hesel, CEO at Dragonfly Strategists
As Founder & CEO, Helsel brings over 30 years of experience to her leadership at Dragonfly Strategists. Previous executive roles include directing revenue strategy, distribution, sales & marketing, guest loyalty & relations and IT at Journal Hotels, Heritage Hotels & Resorts, TravelClick, Kimpton Hotel & Restaurant Group, ARAMARK Parks & Destinations and Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group. In various roles at hotel and technology companies, Helsel was responsible for topline revenue departments including revenue management, distribution, sales, marketing and contact center services, as well as guest loyalty and guest relations. Additionally, she has led IT strategy for small hotel companies. Active in the industry, she is a past president of HEDNA (the Hotel Electronic Distribution Network Association), served on the 2016 and 2017 Americas Board of HSMAI and was selected as one of Travel Agent Magazine’s Top Women in Travel.
Stuart Butler, Chief Operating Officer at Fuel Travel
Stuart is the Chief Operating Officer at Fuel Travel, a direct booking software provider and full-service agency for the hospitality industry. A native of Horsmonden, England, Stuart moved to the United States in 2001 and has spent the past two decades implementing marketing strategies for hundreds of hotels worldwide. With a degree in Rocket Science from the University of Kent at Canterbury and a background as a Coldfusion programmer and project manager, he leverages cutting-edge technology and takes a solutions-minded and innovative approach to everyday marketing challenges. Stuart is also the host of the industry’s #1 weekly marketing podcast – “The Fuel Hotel Marketing Podcast”. On each of the 125+ published episodes, Stuart and his team of Fueligans discuss industry trends and provide tangible marketing advice to thousands of hotel marketers across the globe.