American Marketer

Travel and hospitality

Focus on hospitality element vs. simply sanitation measures for travel to rebound

August 17, 2020

Four consumer personas have different approaches to travel. Image courtesy of Ketchum Four consumer personas have different approaches to travel. Image courtesy of Ketchum


Most U.S. consumers expect to travel more next year and the majority said that they would pay more for privacy and distancing, a hopeful signal that the channel will return after 2020 has decimated the hospitality industry.

Ketchum Travel recently interviewed 4,000 U.S. consumers to get a better idea of how travelers are reengaging with the world and what values are influencing their travel behavior traveling during this period of disruption.

"What we once considered table stakes expectations from travel brands has to be front and center now," said Bettina Garibaldi, senior vice president of Ketchum Travel, New York.

"Many of our clients have asked us how they can elevate their pristine sanitation and health safety measures," she said. "And, despite these topics not being the most luxurious, there are ways that you can stay true to your brand and show that you’re listening and addressing the needs of your clientele.

"What we tell them is simple, elevate the hospitality element and make that the protagonist of the story versus focusing solely on the tactic like sanitizing luggage upon arrival, for example.

"Put a spotlight on the exclusive amenities that allow for more privacy and social distancing protocols versus privacy itself since human interaction isn’t necessarily a bad thing if done responsibly.

"And, lastly, gain trust by being transparent and managing expectations about the experience. By focusing on these areas, luxury hospitality brands may be able to influence the 25 percent of travelers that still don’t trust hotels to provide a safe experience."

Consumers are wary of others while traveling. Image courtesy of Ketchum Consumers are wary of others while traveling. Image courtesy of Ketchum

U.S. travel trends
Seventy-six percent of U.S. consumers expect to travel more in the next year after not being able to travel now.

Another 80 percent said that they are willing to pay higher prices for privacy and distancing, and cleanliness protocols are a big deciding factor on whether or not to book, per Ketchum’s report.

Eighty-seven percent of those surveyed said that fellow travelers, not travel companies, have a bigger impact on whether they feel comfortable traveling. Sixty-seven percent of consumers said they will judge others for traveling before they themselves think it is safe.

Notably, more than half (56 percent) plan to censor their social media posts to avoid being shamed for traveling.

Fifty-seven percent of those surveyed that the pandemic has made them more likely to travel with a close friend.

"Maybe a silver lining amid in this pandemic is that it’s bringing families closer together," Ms. Garibaldi said.

"Given this, friends and family packages can certainly be a great way to encourage traveling with smaller groups of family and friends who we know we can trust, in an age where trusting our fellow travelers has proven to be a challenge" she said.

The timeline for reengagement with travel. Image courtesy of Ketchum The timeline for reengagement with travel. Image courtesy of Ketchum

The report also identified four personas of people who have kept their travel preference. The retro reengagers, 33 percent of travelers, are most likely to keep their travel preferences the same as pre-COVID-19. They expect to travel more in the next year, after not being able to and will likely travel in groups.

Open-minded explorers, 22 percent of travelers, are the most open to traveling today. They are twice as likely to travel as the average consumer to travel for work. They expect to travel with children, alone or with close friends. These consumers are more likely to be urban and highly educated, and they prioritize diversity and inclusion when looking for brands to patronize.

Worried withholders, the oldest group identified as 20 percent of travelers, do not trust others and are hesitant to return to travel. They expect that the pandemic will affect their activities.

Cautious questioners, 25 percent of travelers, are the most likely to have experienced the most disruption in travel plans. These consumers are 19 percent less than others to return to travel, perhaps because they have existing health problems that could make them more at risk for becoming very sick should they catch the virus. These consumers are twice as likely to feel very uncomfortable visiting shared spaces, as compared to other consumers.

Travel is the last behavior to which consumers feel comfortable returning.

Most consumers expect to return to a retail store or a doctor’s office in the next three months, return to the office in 3.5 months and eat out in five months.

On the other hand, it will take seven months for people to feel comfortable traveling domestically or staying in a hotel. It will take them 8.5 months before they return to air travel. And 11 months before they would consider traveling overseas.

"One thing that has become clear during the global pandemic is that responsible, strategic communications is a powerful vehicle that travel brands should not be afraid to activate," Ms. Garibaldi said.

"Since things are rapidly changing, it’s crucial for travel brands to maintain an open line of communication with travelers and stakeholders and keep them updated with the latest information, in order to continue ensuring health and safety and in turn, generating traveler confidence," she said.

"If you’re a travel brand, we ask them, where are you on our Rebound Roadmap? The stops within the road are areas we’ve seen trend amid the pandemic.

"You can turn off paid, and many have, but earned media and social chatter do not turn off, which is why communications is more relevant than ever. It’s also a cost-effective way to inform, educate and entertain your important clientele during this time."