The COVID-19 pandemic has presented the greatest global challenge to the travel industry we’ve ever seen. Driven by local and international responses to the crisis, the industry has been devastated by enforced lockdowns, travel restrictions, consumer fear, and major economic distress.
And while the road ahead remains bumpy for the Australian travel industry, new research from the first few months of the pandemic has indicated email marketing is the best performing digital channel for travel companies when it comes to keeping customers engaged and reassured during the crisis.
The research by Validity Inc. found that when it comes to return on investment in digital marketing, email is the quiet over-achiever that is often overlooked by marketers. While email was shown to generate five per cent of travel websites’ web traffic and 19 per cent of their paid media visits, it’s barely acknowledged when it comes to marketing budgets, with only three per cent of the average digital marketing spend being put towards the channel.
In fact, Validity’s research revealed that if travel companies were to increase their spend on email marketing by even just one per cent, they could be seeing dramatic increases in website visits. In fact, if equal budget were to be invested across email, social, display and paid search marketing, email would generate three times more website visits than social, seven times more than paid search, and 34 times more than visits than display advertising.
At a time when budgets are tighter than they have ever been before, these new insights about the potential of email should come as good news to most businesses given how accessible the channel is.
However, like any marketing activity, email requires strategy and clever execution to be successful – especially during a pandemic when the Australian public are largely unable to holiday or travel.
Communications need to be relevant
Maintaining brand awareness is crucial for travel companies to come through this pandemic with their credibility and relevance intact, yet constantly bombarding subscribers with beautiful photos of destinations they’re unable to travel to isn’t the way to go about it.
Travel companies need to be clever in their communications, while being mindful of tone and frequency to ensure they stay relevant without becoming annoying. Serve deals, images, and communications that relate to subscribers’ world now and that they can access in the short term, or ‘foreseeable’ future.
Businesses that have succeeded at remaining relevant throughout the pandemic have sent their subscribers a combination of informative, entertaining and aspirational content. Informative content might include explanations on new or changed COVID-19 travel restrictions, changes to office hours, or updates on refunds and other policies.
Examples of well-executed entertaining and aspirational content have included virtual tours of famous landmarks, as well as games and quizzes on well-known locations for those who are home-bound, and domestic holiday ideas including ‘staycations’ for subscribers in locations that can travel.
Adjust your frequency
Given many Australians are currently unable to holiday, travel companies would be wise to rethink how regularly they reach out to their subscribers. While you don’t want customers to forget about you or your services, you also don’t want to frustrate them by appearing in their inbox daily if they can’t enjoy what it is that you largely offer.
Consider your tone
While funny and entertaining emails can be a great way for travel companies to capture subscribers’ attention, marketers need to pay close attention to their language and tone. Many people are struggling at the moment and language that is perceived as overly frivolous or making light of the current situation won’t be well received.
Similarly, emails with subject lines like ‘we’re here for you’ that lack substance and don’t offer information around how the company intends to help recipients are likely to do more harm than good. Make sure your dialogue is relevant and sensitive to subscribers’ situations and consider avoiding sarcasm (even if it’s intended to be humorous). Communicating with empathy, positivity and compassion is the safest option right now.
Email has proven itself to be a high-performing marketing tool for travel companies during the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, they would be wise to focus their attentions on this highly affordable and effective channel to keep customers engaged and loyal during this time.
Guy Hanson is the vice president of customer engagement at Validity.
Featured image source: iStock/tolgart