TORONTO — Claire Newell didn’t know how, or when, to re-start her marketing efforts for her travel agency, Travel Best Bets.
She just knew she had to somehow keep her agency’s name in front of her clients, even if the pandemic and its travel restrictions looked like an insurmountable challenge, with no end in sight.
There’s no playbook for marketing travel in a pandemic, “so I literally went by gut instinct,” says Newell, president of the Burnaby, B.C.-based agency.
She started with sheer presence. Through the end of March and into early April, when the travel industry was reeling from the impact of COVID-19, and agents were working day and night to assist clients with cancellations and flights home, Newell found ways to stay in touch. She sent out everything from travel updates to recipes and quizzes, via social media and her e-newsletter. Anything to keep the connection with her clients intact.
What she didn’t post – at least initially – were deals. “I stayed in contact with all of my local reps from the companies that we work closest with to find out what other travel agencies were having luck with. It became clear that anyone who tried to market deals often had terrible reactions from clients, getting huge ‘unsubscribe’ clicks to their contact lists. I knew I had to move slowly and carefully,” she said.
By late April she reassessed the situation. “On April 30 I chose to do a poll on Instagram Stories asking followers if they were ready to see deals from us.”
Can a tone-deaf marketing message backfire to the point that if a company is unsure of their message, they should just lay low?
Brent Purves, CEO of the Vancouver-based Stir Marketing, says the short answer is yes. “Tone-deaf marketing could hurt irrevocably. Much care should be taken to make sure content is respectful and timely and careful.”
And as the travel industry restarts its marketing efforts, there are 4 assumptions in messaging that travel companies will want to avoid, says Purves.
Purves adds that travel companies “need to create a flexible online and offline marketing strategy that provides detailed campaign results tracking as well as the ability to run small test campaigns targeting different audiences in different geographic locations.”
READ MORE: Newell posted the results from her poll asking clients if they were ready to hear about travel deals – and admits she was “terrified” about what to do next. To read more about Newell’s next steps, the 4 assumptions Purves says travel companies could be mistakenly making about their clients, and more marketing insights from Purves and VoX International’s Susan Webb, check out Travelweek’s lead story on page 3 by clicking here.