26th -27th June, News UK Building, London

ABTA’s flagship Travel Marketing Conference was once again back in London, held at the impressive News UK Building opposite The Shard. Over two days, travel industry experts and marketing professionals gathered for a dynamic event filled with presentations, panel discussions, case studies and networking opportunities.

As a newbie to the conference, my wide-eyed enthusiasm was boosted further by the breath-taking views of London from the 17th floor. From such an elevated position, would the speakers deliver equally elevated sessions?

The answer is a definite yes. Here’s my summary of the two days.

Day one

Navigating travel trends

Following an intro and welcome speech delivered by Graeme Buck, Director of Communications of ABTA, Charlie Gordon of Kantar Media took to the stage, guiding us through some data trends built on a representative sample of 24,000 UK adults.

Key takeaways

  • Over the last year, more than 29 million people went on holiday.
  • As of June 2024, a fifth of people are planning a holiday but are yet to book.
  • European locations are still UK travellers' preferred destinations, with Spain, France, Greece and Italy coming out on top.
  • One third of people are looking to take more trips in 2025, with 27% planning one big holiday and 52% planning a number of smaller trips.

Next up was the first panel of the conference, with moderator Tom Scott, Travel Sales Director of The Times & Sunday Times leading discussions. The panel focused on expected travel spending habits, emerging trends and predictions for the year ahead.

Key takeaways

  • 'Duping’ is on the rise, i.e. looking for the same level of experience but for a cheaper cost (such as choosing Budapest or Albania over Paris or Barcelona).
  • A greater number of millennials are taking more cruises – ‘no longer just for the newlyweds and nearly deads’.
  • Gen Z trust TikTok when it comes to choosing holidays and travel experiences, seeking out reviews and videos of their preferred destinations on that platform more than any other.
ABTA Panel 1 min image

Inclusive and accessibly: the way forward in travel marketing

The next section was perhaps my favourite from the whole two days. First, we heard from Uwern Jong, founder of OutThere – a travel magazine for affluent LGBTQ travellers. A captivating public speaker, Uwern explored how DEAI (Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, Inclusion) is still affected by unconscious bias and tokenism in travel marketing, using the tagline ‘will your wife be joining us for dinner?’ as a prime example of how assumptions are still made by those in the industry.

Key takeaways

  • 73% of luxury travellers from diverse backgrounds don’t feel that the travel industry is inclusive.
  • There is still a lack of representation in marketing (i.e. we are overwhelmingly presented with image of the stereotypical white, nuclear family).
  • The industry needs proactive personalisation – not just reactive

We then heard from Dom Hyams of Purple Goat Agency who provided some stories of his own experiences as a power chair user as well stats on disability within the UK, sharing practical tips on how to ensure travel professionals are applying more inclusive and accessible practices.

Key takeaways

  • 24% of people in the UK are disabled.
  • Only 0.9% of ads feature disabled people.
  • Of this, only 16% is ‘normalised’ representation, e.g. ads where the focus is not on disability.
Dom Hyams ABTA image

Going for growth – strategies for high-growth journeys

After lunch we heard from Suzie Oakford and Chloë McKenna of Oban International, an agency specialising in international marketing. Suzie and Chloë explored how to use digital channels to achieve growth through understanding cultural and linguistic nuances, highlighting the importance of utiilising LIMEs (Local In-Market Experts) who can drive better performance. They also presented us with some great insights into the current state of search, highlighting that the top 10,000 travel keywords capture just 18% of all travel queries!

Following on from Oban International, was Adido’s own Andy Headington, taking a deep dive into the current digital marketing landscape and exploring how Google's monopoly on search shows no signs of weakening. Andy threw us all a curveball by stating that, despite contrary belief, Facebook is STILL on the up, with users growing year on year, but engagement is minimal (the median engagement rate per post across all industries is just 0.064%).

Key takeaways

  • More time is spent on TikTok per month than any other social media platform.
  • Email is still a powerful (and often under used) marketing tool.
  • Google, Facebook and Amazon hoover up every £2 in £3 spent on digital ads.

Creating meaningful connections with your audience

Richard Adams of Jules Verne took us on a fascinating trip through time, detailing the tour operator’s evolution from humble beginnings in 1978 to its subsequent range of product launches and rebrandings through the years, before giving us a summary of where the brand sits in today’s travel landscape. This then led into the final session of the first day, a panel discussion centred around building a future-proof travel brand. The panel consisted of Richard Adams, alongside ABTA’s Shelly Beresford, Heath Heise of Llama and Jae Hopkins of Explore Worldwide.

Topics covered

  • What does it mean to build a trusted and resilient travel brand today.
  • Brand consistency vs flexibility: finding the right balance for long-term success.
  • Measuring the unmeasurable: how to capture the business value of brand trust and authenticity.
  • Navigating the challenges of brand positioning for B2C and B2B.
ABTA panel 2 image

Day two

Reaching your audience

Tom Scott of The Times provided a warm welcome before introducing Andy Headington who was on stage to talk about cookies, i.e. how we use them, how data is tracked and whether we’ve become too complacent in our approach to GDPR. Andy then looked at Google Consent Mode v2 – what it is and how to set it up – as well as exploring how we access data now and in the future.

Key takeaways

  • If you are using cookies for your website either set up by yourself or by third parties (e.g. Google Analytics, Meta, LinkedIn, etc.), you should have a clear cookie policy on your website.
  • You can still be fined heavily by the ICO if you are found not to be complying with GDPR.
  • If you don’t set up Google Consent Mode, data for new EEA users won’t be captured by your Google platforms.
Andy Cookies Presentation ABTA min image

We then heard from Scott Logie of Sagacity, discussing traditional vs. digital travel marketing – and what actually works. Scott explained how many brands are tempted to push budget into digital marketing as it feels cheaper and easier. However, the choice should be customer and ROI driven rather than based on budget. Benefits of direct marketing include:

  • tangible and physical engagement opportunities.
  • targeted and personalised comms in the physical world.
  • can be integrated with other marketing strategies.

The changing advertising landscapes: trends, challenges and outlook

Following a whistle-stop tour of audio advertising campaigns across News Broadcasting’s platforms from Laura Jane Young of NewsUK, we then heard from Jane Lee, Head of Business Development at Global who kicked off her presentation with the incredible stat that 70% of people can’t remember a time when a brand excited them. Jane then gave some breath-taking examples of digital out of home (OOH) advertising campaigns, highlighting the incredible visual impact they can have when we’re out and about.

In the panel session that followed, ABTA’s Head of Brand and Marketing Laura Stephen was joined on stage by Nick Barratt, Director of Global Airports International and Alex Hermann, Director at Switzerland Tourism to discuss TV, radio, podcasts, audio plus advertising within UK airports. Alex gave some fascinating insights into how his team have developed a marketing strategy to encourage UK travellers to visit Switzerland in Autumn, a season that typically sees the fewest UK visitors travelling to that particular country – it certainly piqued my own wanderlust!

Switzerland Tourism Panel ABTA min image

Final thoughts

Although there were still a range of sessions for the remainder of the second day, covering topics including social media and marketing strategies fit for the future, it was sadly time for me to saddle up and make the long trip back to Northumberland. While on the train, I reflected on all the speakers I had seen and what had resonated with me the most, both in a professional sense and as a traveller in my own right.

The one that perhaps hit home the hardest was Uwern Jong’s session on inclusivity and how the industry’s approach to those who don’t fit the stereotypical mould still has so much room for improvement. As a lone female traveller, would I feel comfortable travelling alone? In some circumstances – yes, but in many, many other situations…nope, not even a little bit. And from a commercial angle, by being just a bit more inclusive, many more travel businesses can appeal to broader range of travellers and sell just a few more trips. Every little helps, as they say.

So if the conference has left me with one overriding thought, it’s how I – as someone working for a travel marketing agency - can play a small (but hopefully not insignificant) part in making travel a more inclusive experience for everyone.

Thanks to ABTA and all the speakers – see you next year!

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