The day to day attention of travel marketers is undoubtedly focused on bookings, revenue and cost efficiencies. But every once in a while it's hugely beneficial to step out of the minuate and performance-focused tasks, and be inspired by what else is going on in the industry. Last month ABTA held it's annual travel marketing conference, and as an attendee, here is my round-up of the event featuring the current sentiment, hot topics and research to give you inspiration for the second half of 2023 and beyond!

It’s been a while since I attended a conference, and for my first one back to be at the ABTA travel marketing conference in May, it was even more special given the turmoil this industry has faced over recent years. It was also encouraging to see so many positive and eager to learn delegates on a hot and sunny day in London.

Once again Adido was a headline sponsor, and Andy Headington took to the stage on a few occasions to host a panel or present our views on travel marketing, GA4 and measurement. Much of what he shared features in many of our blogs so I’m not going to re-iterate here, and will focus more on what other speakers had to say on the day.

Some travel stats and facts, because we all love a bit of research!

Day 1 kicked off with some unsettling news, with research from News UK mentioning that the mood of the nation mid-way through 2023, is more negative now than during Covid-19!

34% of Times readers, and 49% of The Sun readers expressed they’re worried financially, and that most causes people care about are fairly inward-looking and personal as opposed to wider global issues.

News UK

For example fair wages and income equality has jumped into the top 5 as a concern, whereas climate change has dropped from #1 to #4 in the list of causes people care about.

That being said, for the travel sector, it was reassuring to learn that 3 out of 4 adults were still planning a holiday in the next three months despite cutting back on spending elsewhere. Leisure-time and escaping still seems to be a non-negotiable to UK adults.

In particular, luxury travel is outperforming the market, with consumers seeking value for money and quality, and will (begrudgingly nonetheless) accept a higher price rather than a lesser experience. As a result travellers may travel less per year, but would be willing to spend more rather than get a watered down, lower quality holiday if they paid less.

We were also staggered to learn that 38% of UK holidaymakers were yet to plan their summer holiday this year! This will undoubtedly have been skewed by those still planning a domestic / short haul holiday, but budgeting decisions caused by the cost of living crisis appears to be making people apprehensive. Good news for agents with last minute deals, but not so helpful to travel operators and agencies wanting to get their bookings in ahead of time. Perhaps it could explain the lack of bookings in recent months?

Worth noting that:

  • Millennials/couples might be waiting for a last minute deal just so they can maximise their spend
  • Slashing prices might seem like a good idea to appease those on a tight budget, but this could de-value the perceived product/experience and thus it could actually put people off, so reduce prices with caution
  • Gen X buy based on a need for R&R and ease - they want to travel cheaply, with ease and for it all to be simple
  • Baby Boomer seek assurance (so free cancellation incentive is attractive to them and highly sought after)
  • Gen Z are guided a lot by what they see and hear on social media
  • Millennials want upgraded experiences - they want to feel like they’ve got something extra, they’re doing something a bit different and/or they are getting a higher level of service than the norm

Travel marketing strategies - what are people doing that’s working?

Keep investing in brand and marketing activity

I remember during COVID-19, reading and listening to a lot of content about marketing in a recession. During the conference it was poignant to hear how some of this advice had been brought to life, and travel brands were advocating it.

Mark Ritson champions why marketing during a recession is a good idea and why businesses shouldn’t go dark (even though it can seem almost impossible to keep spending when cash flow is tight). During the conference, phrases such as ‘easier to maintain SOV in a recession’ and ‘cost of ad disinvestment are damaging long term’ were used alongside research from Edelman’s Trust Barometer which reported a “20% drop in trust amongst brands who stop advertising.”

When trust and quality are two of the most important brand metrics for profit and growth it's easy to see why marketers must champion continued marketing investment. We also heard a few of the speakers promote the ‘long and short of it’ theory as proposed by Binet & Field.

Companies that increase marketing in a recession recover 3X faster in ‘normal’ times.

Read more

Invest in creativity and fun

Part of investing in brand means that companies need to inject personality, distinctiveness and fun into their marketing communications and brand experiences. This isn’t easily found on the bottom line, and tactical promotions, whilst they can drive sales in the short term, can erode brand equity.

A large part of what speakers on the day shared was businesses turning to brand advertising and not just ploughing all their money into activation. We were fortunate to hear from a mix of travel brands.

  • Barrhead Travel have invested more in TV and explored relationships with influencers
  • Travelopia put more effort into content and SEO, and capitalised on the social chat and interest in Italy following the rise of BBC shows like Stanley Tucci’s Italy and Clyde Myrie’s Italian Road Trip
  • Black Tomato, who are huge advocates of brand building, successfully invest their budgets in storytelling to leverage emotion and meaningful connections with their consumers, rather than worry about destination information. At a time when people couldn’t travel, they still invested in ways to keep their audience engaged. As a result they got to partner with Agatha Christie’s estate and the James Bond franchise.
  • easyJet Holidays invested in TV advertising whose content contained many brand triggers and cues, as well as OOH takeovers at Gatwick airport to specifically improve its SOV and interest from customers in this area (expecting a return over a longer period of time).
  • GAdventures reconsidered its creative output with the arrival of P-Max campaigns in Google Ads, as this campaign type is only as good as the content used. They’ve invested more in the articulation of product information and video assets to make the most of this channel.

Invest in alternative channels to reach and engage with audiences

Day 2 featured a lot of different media publishers. This was a great chance for someone like me as a strategist to lift my head above the day to day (and the search-focused, tactical workings of most of our client retainers) and re-connect with the wider world to consider alternative platforms for consumer engagement.

The power of audio content

34m people listen to digital audio every week in the UK according to Global.

It was promoted as the ultimate companion media, which offers an exciting opportunity for travel brands wanting to be part of a consumer’s day to day life from the moment they wake up, commute to work, work, rest or play, and retire to bed in the evening.

How often does audio (radio/podcast/music streaming) join you in your daily routine? Imagine how powerful a travel brand message could be at certain moments during that day, and how it could easily be supported by a digital / phone / physical store CTAs…

Targeting innovations within the world of audio have exploded. Some of the ones that caught my attention included:

  • Podcast conversational targeting - be close to what is actually spoken about during a podcast (rather than just targeting based on the podcast category)
  • Personalised creative can lead to an 85% increase in brand consideration and an uplift in conversions by 2.4X
  • Login gates on audio players can offer far more intelligence on the audience and coupled with machine learning can identity the unidentified to improve relevance and timeliness
  • Joining data sources for high value targeting - combine media publisher audience data with customer data to identify high value lookalikes

TV makes a comeback

I’ve always been an advocate of Sky Adsmart. They were the first media publisher (I was aware of) to offer a digital approach to hyper-segmentation, targeting and reporting on a medium [TV] which was traditionally very vague and limited in its opportunities.

The ability to target UK households based on mosaic profiling and content type in a manner akin to digital ad targeting, but via a TV platform is exciting for many.

According to Sky 50% of households in the UK have Sky! With its first party subscriber base, those of us grappling with 3rd party data compliance, it’s a breath of fresh air for reaching consumers and reporting on measurable outcomes.

With its staggering £50k ‘small budget’ price point, it can appear off-putting for most advertisers I come across, but it champions a ‘from £3k’ media spend in its sales collateral. It’s certainly do-able on a small(er) budget, but you have to have a Clearcast compliant video creative, and be ready to go with an asset already to benefit from the really low fees.

Not to be overlooked though...

Pinners are planners

There are 3m+ Pinners in the UK who engage with travel content every month according to Pinterest. The Pinterest audience is usually in a positive state of mind and they often have a future mindset because they use the platform to plan and be inspired by thus offering the perfect environment for travel brands to engage.

At its heart Pinterest is a visual discovery platform, and in the world of travel marketing, selling holidays is all about the visuals and emotion so could be a great fit for travel brands.

It is not a platform I’ve immediately jumped to when planning travel campaigns when considering social media advertising, but it’s certainly a viable and potentially powerful platform to consider if you’re in a brand building state of mind.

Leveraging the concept of moment marketing, sharing content and connecting with consumers on Pinterest could be a powerful environment for travel brands, if your audience is active on the platform. If you’re interested in finding out more, Pinterest has a business section so worth following up here.

Choosing which channels to engage with consumers can seem overwhelming when there are so many options available, and each has their own merit and potential. The best advice to help you narrow down and prioritise is to think about

  • where your audience is paying most attention (on what platforms);
  • what moments through the day (pick 2-3) and what possible mindsets could your audience be in during those times, that you could engage appropriately and effectively;
  • when selecting media publishers treat them as partners and share data and objectives so that you can work towards a common goal together - 2 heads are better than one!

Hard as it is to believe (from an agency who makes most of its money from search marketing) it’s not all about the business end of digital marketing. Without sparking interest, raising awareness or building trust, often the harvesting channels like search can dry up or become more expensive to operate because the consumer hasn’t been warmed up or encouraged to seek you out. So don’t place all your investment here!

And finally… the spine chilling world of AI

No marketing conference these days would be complete without some talks or mentions about AI.

Andy and Adido’s content writers have contributed a fair few blogs on this topic so I’m not going to go into a huge amount of detail here, but I will share some of the latest tools and platforms that featured during the conference for those wishing to learn more.

  • Jasper - an AI copywriter and content generator which also includes a plagiarism check
  • Baby AGI & streamlit - an AI system which can autonomously manage tasks by creating, prioritising and executing them. It can also offer a data visualisation output for chatGPT which connects Streamlit to Snowflake.
  • Descript AI - all in one video and podcast editing tool, which can alter your audio and be trained to use someone else’s voice if you give it enough sound bites of the person!

So that’s all for now, and for ABTA’s travel marketing conference for another year.

We may be nearly half way through 2023, with many travel brands not really knowing whether sales will rise or fall over the coming months, but two things are for sure, it’s important to diversify your marketing activity and investing in brand will never be a bad idea.

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Meet the author ...

Kherrin Wade

Strategy Director

Kherrin works with clients to develop effective marketing strategies, whether that's introducing brands to digital for the first time or pushing the boundaries with more ...