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April 27, 2021 // //  //       //  Opinion

Cue the Ceremonial Mask Burning Ceremonies

A new era in travel has begun. All hail the return of the roaring 20s, but with a new and recently vaccinated twist!

While the travel industry was amongst the hardest hit, all signs point towards a swift and triumphant return of a beloved pastime and the ability to turn on 'vacay mode' for its fans and followers. But for an industry that felt the most dramatic impact, while immediate demand is strong, it will likely take months, or even years, to turn profits back from red to green. Expedia Group recently reported fourth-quarter earnings that included a 64% revenue drop. That is one giant hill to slowly hike back up in 2021.

So, as the lights turn back on, with it comes increased competition to earn heads in beds and make brands stand out from the pack as the destination and home base for your vacation comeback story in 2021. The major players are showing up for this royal battle, and are putting money, star power, and even humor behind it.

Last week Accor hotels launched a tongue-in-cheek ad campaign with actor Neil Patrick Harris who teaches travelers how to be a 'real person' again after more than a year of the coronavirus pandemic. To put its own mark in the proverbial bucket of return to travel campaigns, coined the term “revenge travel” for those travelers looking to make up for a year of lost getaways. These early campaigns have shown a valiant effort, but few to date have exhibited real benefit to consumers beyond marketing fluff. Below you will find some recommendations for meaningful ways to win customers back:

  • Discounts - While hotels need to turn a profit, discerning travelers are making important purchase decisions based on the perceived value of which brand wants them back the most and how much they are willing to discount offerings to get them there. And while discounts do work, it’s those that are discounting creatively and adding value along the way, that are earning the ever-illusive brand affinity. A good example of this is our client Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants. The boutique hotelier owned by IHG just launched a national partnership and book club with a world-renowned literary platform, Lit Hub. The partnership gives guests staying on property access to books which reflects how literature responds to cultural moments, as well as an opportunity to take part in a safe activity in the comfort of their own room. Guests who want to join the book club also have access to a 20 percent off rate code, making this offer a true bibliophile’s dream. 
  • Lose the Gimmicks and Lean Into Real Tensions – While the world is ready to travel and vaccinated customers are ripe for adventure, anxiety, as it relates to the return to travel, is a real thing. How do I small talk in a post-pandemic world? What if I pay to get on a plane and am too anxious to leave my hotel room? Will my pet miss me too much? How can I find resort wear to hind my ‘Quarantine 15’? Are trust falls at the company retreat still a thing in a post-pandemic world?  Brands that can successfully solve a real tension, and do so in a creative way, have the opportunity to earn fans for life. 
  • Culture is King - While recapturing guests who have previously stayed at your property is important, it is equally important finding creative ways to make your object shiny for the next generation of travelers. In addition to maintaining a steady and on-trend social presence and artfully integrating new platforms (oh hey there Clubhouse!), brands must find ways to tap into pop culture to increase consumer relevance. Whether that means giving hard-working moms a whole month to celebrate Mother’s Day because one day just isn’t enough after the year we’ve had, or launching a $10 million “Summer Stimmy (a play on stimulus) Proposal for Fun” to help stimulate the economy, culture remains king when it comes to breaking through with Gen Z and beyond.   

With new CDC guidelines released today effectively stating that vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks outside, travel brands must continue to evolve fast to meet the ever-changing consumer demand. Cue the ceremonial mask burning ceremonies being sold as an “experiential” package at a hotel near you! 

Emily is a seasoned communications professional with nearly 20 years of experience developing integrated communications strategies and driving creative ideation for clients, including international hotel brands, world-famous chefs, airlines, CPG products, restaurant chains, and more. She is known for her creativity and breakthrough thinking and has been responsible for many large-scale award-winning and results-driving campaigns, including bringing the first food tech product to CES and pairing Hilton Hotels & Resorts with Onion Labs to launch its Hilton Urgent Vacation Care Center.


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