The Return of the Summer Road Trip.

A family has been spending time at home, playing outside and cooking meals together. Next week they head out on their annual vacation and will be loading in their family car, driving 9 hours to spend some time at a small lakeside town.

The year is not 1972, but rather 2020. The current climate has lent itself to a hard reset for many and family travel plans look much differently this year. According to AAA, 683 million road trips will still happen this year, making up a historic high of 97% of all travel. This is not surprising; however, it may mean your traditional marketing efforts will not resonate.

Here are some quick tips on how to think about marketing in this new environment.

  1. Know how to attract the new audience. The make up of travelers has drastically shifted to the younger generations. This is a combination of older individuals not desiring to travel, as well as a hiatus on business travel. This group of travelers are much more interested in experiences and supporting local businesses. I recommend to create a list of local restaurants and bars that are currently open and ensure it is kept up to date regarding any changes. Provide some diverse options that may not immediately show up on a google map search. You may want to create a digital asset that lives on your website and social channels to show you are an expert on navigating your area in the midst of Covid-19.
  2. Nature is a big draw currently as we are all social distancing. Creating a list of local parks or hikes nearby for those visiting your area will show you are a great base camp option. Craft your website content around new keywords and links to local “natural attractions” to capture some of the traffic looking to explore the outdoors around you. AirBnB or camping is often a go-to for this crowd, but often takes much more advanced planning and lack of last minute options could mean you gain a new customer base. With hotels having lower occupancy, this could become a great opportunity for a hotel in the right area to find a new niche.
  3. Booking windows have shrunk. Historically, booking windows remained around 28+ days in most markets, but has recently been reported by the latest Demand360 data to be 0-7 days. There are some obvious reasons for this, but I do believe we may see a continuation of a larger amount of same day, or even last minute “digital walk in” bookings. With a perception that hotels are “empty” in combination of people taking more road trips, we may see this as a trend that may stay with us for some time. Plan your rates accordingly and evaluate your digital footprint around your reviews and your OTA presence. Are you competitive for same night bookings?
  4. Fear is still present. As cases continue to rise, there is a fear that needs to be addressed for every traveler. They want to know what you are doing at a hotel level to keep them safe. Ensure you have dedicated information on your website that is easily accessible, even on a mobile device, showing what you are doing at a property level to mitigate any risk for your guests. Also, monitor and respond to your reviews to show engagement and a concern for the well being of everyone staying with you. You may want to consider a third party vendor to help with the additional workload of responding to all your reviews, 24/7, such as iResponze. Now more than ever, reviews are going to be a deciding factor in a traveler deciding to stay with you or your competitor.

There is something nostalgic about a road trip that helps reset the brain and satisfies a sense of discovery. It naturally brings up thoughts of the Griswolds in a station wagon traveling; however, John Candy at the entrance of Walley World saying it is closed has been replaced by Covid-19 mandates and closures. Having a customized and targeted marketing plan may situate you as a natural choice for any road weary traveler.