By Carly Hegstad, Senior Digital Strategy, Lawrence & Schiller
The pandemic created a variety of shifts for destination marketers. Drive markets increased, while fly markets went way down, then transitioned into a bumpy recovery. People booked more home rentals, and are favoring outdoor and remote destinations.
Going into the shoulder season this fall, the travel season will still be affected by the pandemic – creating a mix of travel behaviors. Leaf peepers might be out in abundance, some might be pampering themselves with a long-awaited luxury getaway, while others might be eager to stay closer to home at their favorite local establishments.
While there is still uncertainty as to what travel will look like this fall, one thing is certain — people are reading more emails than ever before. Email remains an important communication channel for destinations and local tourism boards as they work to deliver the right message to the right audience.
Here are a few best practices for creating email campaigns that will deliver results:
Segment your existing audience
Rethink your audience based on new behaviors and segment for specific campaigns and messaging based on what you find. Send surveys, add fields to sign up forms about when they are thinking of booking a trip and what that trip might look like. Partner with companies that can provide insight on booking windows and how long or short people are planning out their trips.
Adjust your message by traveler segment. Provide content that inspires travel for those who may still be in the “someday down the road” category and push urgency with a “Book Now” message or offer for those ready to hit the road this weekend. Don’t wait until your message no longer makes sense. Stay on top of the conversation so you’re ready if your strategy needs to shift.
Not sure who or where your audience is? Dig into Google Analytics or utilize the insights your ESP provides about where your audience is. Start segmenting this in advance in case some of this is limited down the road as Google plans to limit third-party cookies in a couple of years and Apple starts to limit location targeting on their phones.
Find new audiences
Be open to targeting a new audience. This fall people may be more open to road trips than booking a flight. Destinations that are used to seeing travelers from far away should test target markets that are within driving distance. Create segments for each “drive market” and alter your messaging to highlight your destination partners along each route by market.
Create in-state campaigns and target those closer to home base. South Dakota emerged as a top drive destination throughout the pandemic, in part due to a variety of local ad campaigns that urged state residents to discover what lies within their own backyard.
Remember to generate leads to build up new audiences for future campaigns when the timing is right for travel and keep an eye on “Book Now” activity as an indicator that people are eager to travel or are still in planning mode.
Work with your destination partners to learn as you go
There are three guiding principles to a healthy partnership between destinations and organizations in their community: share data, work together on messaging, and create regular reports.
With third-party cookies and mobile IDs slowly eroding with each change that Google and Apple make, destinations need to lean harder on their own traveler data for ad targeting, email segmentation and personalization. Work as a unified front with your destination partners to collect data on websites, in quizzes and polls and at check-in points across attractions, restaurants and more.
Build a system to share insights from your first-party data about the types of travelers who are comfortable traveling right now – ensuring compliance of course. Where permissions allow and when the use case makes sense, share retargeting audiences to capture those who have shown interest.
Work together on campaigns to increase bookings – maybe it’s a vacation package giveaway that multiple partners are involved in that can all benefit from leads generated and awareness from the campaign exposure.
After you run campaigns, share performance reports so that everyone is on the same page as to what messages are working and how to reach different segments and locations most effectively. For example, Lawrence & Schiller, in partnership with South Dakota Tourism share easy-to-read reports via email to partners in the region as a way to keep everyone in lockstep.
Travel is still not back to a “new normal” and won’t be for a while, as people ride out the last of the pandemic and make up for lost travel time. Be flexible and creative – keep learning and changing to keep up with your travelers, and your messaging will find the right audience.