A Tale of Two Journeys: How Travel and Luxury Partnership Marketers Have Fared in Tough Economic Waters

By Emily Bedford VP of Customer Success, EMEA, Partnerize

Over recent years, due to specific influences on consumer behavior during the period, marketers have faced particularly choppy economic waters. For those undertaking partnership marketing in that timeframe, the challenges have varied by vertical. For example, the luxury and travel verticals have encountered this economic turbulence along with behavioral shifts unique to those domains. These dynamics have spurred marketers to rethink vertical-specific strategies and approaches. As we finish the first half of 2024, it’s worth examining these adjustments to learn and strengthen for the ongoing journey.

The economic challenges of recent years—ranging from the global pandemic to the cost-of-living crisis—have reshaped daily life and, therefore, consumer behavior. At the front end of the pandemic, luxury brands saw sales soar in the US, as examined in an eMarketer luxury study, by Zak Stambor, Senior Analyst, Retail & Ecommerce, “Luxury sales in the US soared earlier in the pandemic when consumers, flush with cash and with little place to go, splurged on high-end goods. But aspirational shoppers have pulled back due to high borrowing costs, persistent inflation, and the return of travel and experiences.”

While luxury brands have seen significant headwinds, the travel industry has enjoyed a robust resurgence that suggests a shift in consumer priorities toward lived experiences over material goods. As one example, successful travel aggregators have evolved and scaled their partnership marketing programs by continually ensuring the right partner mix and messaging according to the consumer’s attraction to experiences. This contrast between luxury and travel underscores the need for marketers to remain adaptable in every aspect of the plan. We see here the importance of well-tailored partnerships and even affiliate marketing strategies not just as a means to survive but to activate purposefully to engage from within the consumer journey and prosper.

When thoughtful and adaptive, partnership marketing strategies and programs have shown resilience in these uncertain times. The innate cost-effectiveness and performance basis of partnership models present a compelling proposition for brands aiming to maximize their marketing spend to achieve efficient engagement and conversation at scale. By definition, partnership strategies offer access to broader networks and audiences or consumers, amplifying reach and engagement in an increasingly fragmented digital landscape. Success stories have emerged from the targeted acquisitions by Frasers Group to broaden its market footprint strategically to travel brands capitalizing on the pent-up demand for experiences. These cases highlight the strategic skill required to navigate economic fluctuations effectively.

Looking ahead to the rest of the year, several continue to develop. As cookieless becomes a reality, the ongoing transition around digital privacy demands a proactive approach from marketers to safeguard their tracking mechanisms and maintain attribution accuracy. The expected economic recovery presents opportunities and challenges as consumer spending behaviors evolve. Marketers in the luxury and travel sectors must, therefore, stay ahead of these trends, crafting strategies that are not only flexible but also profoundly attuned to their target audiences’ shifting preferences and values.

As we near the second half of 2024, a few key takeaways come into sharp focus. First, flexibility and adaptability are crucial to success. Economic conditions and consumer preferences are constantly in flux, and marketing strategies must be agile enough to respond. Second, a partnership marketing program can transform the business but differs from a set-and-forget approach. The evolution of any given program is essential. When well conceived, these approaches provide a resilient foundation for growth, enabling brands to extend their reach and resonate with consumers on a deeper level. Third, a consumer-centric focus remains paramount across the business. Understanding and anticipating consumers’ needs, desires, and values will be critical in crafting compelling marketing narratives and experiences. Lastly, embracing digital innovation and navigating the evolving digital privacy landscape will be crucial for sustaining momentum and ensuring long-term success.

The turbulent economic times of recent years hold valuable marketing lessons. The resilience demonstrated by the travel sector, contrasted with the challenges faced by luxury brands, offers comparative insights into the power of adaptability and strategic foresight. As we look toward 2024, the importance of partnership and affiliate marketing, coupled with a relentless focus on consumer needs and digital innovation, will undoubtedly shape the future of performance marketing. With these insights, marketers can better navigate the uncertainties ahead, seize opportunities, and overcome challenges with sound partnership strategy and creativity throughout the program.