The Great Refresh: Eight tips for designing impactful travel ads for a Covid-19 recovery

Co-authored by:  Laura Barker, creative manager, and Stewart Smith, MD of MEA at Sojern.

Laura Barker and Stewart Smith

In the past year, traveller preferences have dramatically changed. Health and safety are a top priority, and road trips and local staycations are more popular than ever. And those preferences will likely continue well into 2021. Ad design plays a critical role in successful campaigns, but it is often overlooked. In fact, experts recommend updating ads seasonally, when products or seasons change and as customer needs evolve. To successfully generate bookings travel brands must regularly update banner ads. Here are eight ways to design ads to inspire potential travellers to book Covid-safe stays.

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Think local

Last year, the UAE launched an AED80 billion campaign focusing on domestic tourism and staycations, and recent data indicate that travellers prefer domestic destinations for Eid-a-Fitr compared to 2019. All of this points firmly to the fact that domestic, local, staycation-type travel holds the key to a successful Covid recovery. For example, Accor targeted regional audiences across MEA using third-party data, which increased direct bookings by 20 per cent. Just like Accor, hotels and attractions can win business by designing ads geared towards residents and showing travellers they don’t have to go far to create memories.

Keep it clean (and safe!)

Travellers must have confidence in their accommodations. It’s not enough to simply enact Covid-safe protocols; brands must actively broadcast which measures are in place to keep travellers safe. This means ads should highlight cleaning protocols and emphasise guest privacy. By taking the empathetic tone of “we’re in this together,” hotels and attractions can calm travellers’ fears and inspire them to book with confidence.

Take a low-pressure approach

Now is not the time for a hard sell or inflexible bookings. Free cancellation up to 24 hours in advance and no cancellation fees are now standard procedure, and all ads should clearly state these policies. Currently, 80 per cent of searches are for vacations between zero and three days, indicating travellers will avoid minimum stay requirements. In addition, hotels and attractions can offer coupon codes that are good for a longer window of time so travellers can then book when they’re ready.

Get to work

A few years ago, hotels wouldn’t have dreamed of advertising to travellers to work on vacation. Now, organisations like Visit Dubai are advertising remote work opportunities. As consumers tire of working from the same four walls, hotels have the opportunity to promote a new and exciting environment that couples work with relaxation. Ads that offer a home away from home office experience will capture traveller attention to change up their daily routines.

Polish the call-to-action

The call-to-action (CTA) is a crucial part of any ad strategy. Classic examples of calls to action are “book now” or “book direct.” However, in the age of COVID, even a CTA must softly guide travellers along the path to purchase. To reassure travellers, hotels and attractions can urge them to “book without worry,” “book now, stay later,” or even “start planning.” A recent Sojern A/B test confirmed that “start planning” is currently far more effective than “book now,” with seven per cent more click through rates and a staggering 88 per cent higher conversion rate. The right CTA  can excite potential travellers to start planning their next getaway.

Update all images

In today’s travel environment, old ad images won’t woo travellers to book. These images must reflect current travel conditions and should show staff members cleaning or wearing personal protective equipment or small groups of travellers or diners. In addition, exterior and interior views, such as rooms, can give travellers an idea of what to expect upon arrival.

Ditch static banner ads

Traditional banner ads are an easy way to advertise, but brands are working with slashed marketing budgets. This means any efforts must be as impactful as possible. HTML5 ads are more interactive than typical standard banner ads—and they are precisely what travel brands need to beat banner blindness. In fact, global tests done by Sojern show that HTML5 ads have a 13 per cent higher click-through rate and a 13 per cent higher conversion rate than standard static ads.

Deploy holiday-specific campaigns

It’s never too early to plan for holiday travel. Start early by teasing out promotions across multiple channels. However, it’s important to be holiday-specific, not season-specific. For example, an Eid-al-Fitr getaway offer with transparent pricing information is far more attractive than a simple summer excursion. Travellers hoping for the pandemic to improve can be persuaded by the right deal. When combined with flexible cancellation, they can book with peace of mind.