How European Travel Brands Are Attracting Tourists

Do you ever spend your entire business trip counting the days that separate you from vacation? Not in Milano!

a voiceover declares in an ad from the tourism body for Milan. Created by We Are Social Italy, the campaign for Milano & Partners and YesMilano boasts of Milan’s rich cultural heritage and easygoing lifestyle and claims the city is undergoing a renaissance to welcome back business travelers.

The message is striking since Milan was a coronavirus hot spot early in the pandemic. The ad’s images of people enjoying sleek hotels, sunny terraces and poolside cocktails are a sharp contrast to the harrowing scenes of the city’s overcrowded hospitals that dominated headlines last year.

More than a year since news of Covid-19 forced people to cancel their European vacations, YesMilano’s campaign points to a slow reawakening for the travel industry, which has been hard hit by the pandemic. Spending by tourists across European countries declined by 64% in 2020 compared with the year before—and with that decline, the sector’s marketing activity largely dried up as well. Now, as some travel restrictions ease across Europe, the advertising is beginning to follow.

‘Playing chicken’

Still, a lot of uncertainty remains around travel and tourism, so deciding when to resume marketing for it “is like playing chicken,” said Jae Hopkins, chief marketing officer of Ultimate Travel Club, a startup that launches this year. Fast-shifting government guidelines and consumer hesitation are heaping challenges on marketing plans.

“I keep hearing people say it’s like we’re living in dog years. It’s all moving so fast and you just can’t look very far ahead,” she told Adweek.

Hopkins, the former sales and marketing director at Eurotunnel, the transportation company that manages the channel between Great Britain and Europe, recalled a similar period during summer 2020 when some travel began to resume. Like many other travel brands, Eurotunnel shifted its primary marketing message to be about safety. As Skyscanner’s senior vice president of marketing, Clive Daniels, explained: “The considerations around travel are not the same as they were pre-pandemic, and it’s more complex as a decision-making process. What travel providers must do is inform and reassure first before trying to inspire.”

Customers still want escapism

One year later, a big difference is that factors such as safety or free cancellation have become table stakes for businesses in the sector, Hopkins observed.

“The world has moved on so much,” she said. “This year, customers have had so much more tumultuous stuff happen to them. They’re now at the stage where what they want is escapism—to get back to dreaming.”

While marketers may be struggling to plan ahead, many travelers are already dreaming far into the future. According to the website, about half of its bookings in June this year were for summer 2022.

Avoiding the ‘sea of sameness’

“You may not be able to travel abroad now, but that doesn’t stop you from planning ahead. And we know that when it comes to advertising, so much of the value it creates is realized over the long term and not in the immediacy of execution,” Gen Kobayashi, chief strategy officer of Engine Creative, said. “In a year when many people can’t act immediately on your advertising, we should be asking ourselves, how is the work we’re producing going to stand a chance of standing apart from the enormous beach-lined ‘sea of sameness’ that the public will be bombarded by when the travel flood gates eventually open?”

Overall, travel advertisers should shift their emphasis from driving quantity to a higher quality of experiences, Hopkins said. This trend is being borne out by many European tourism bodies, such as Spain’s, whose tourism minister Reyes Maroto told the Financial Times in May: “We are moving from a model of ‘the more tourists, the better’ to one of higher expenditures, more nights and premium tourists.”

European countries such as Spain and Italy plan to use money from the European Union’s recovery funds to modernize their tourist infrastructure. Some are also moving into more lucrative tourist activities, such as Madrid’s recent openings of more luxury hotels, as luxury travel—which accounted for 21% of Europe’s total tourism revenues in 2019—is expected to bounce back quicker after the pandemic, according to consumer data company Statista.

Boom in ‘bucket list’ travel

There has also been a greater demand for more experiential travel, according to tour operator Thomas Cook, which shifted its business online in 2019. People are “more interested in doing an experiential holiday every two or three years than the annual sun trip,” its chief executive Alan French told the FT.

Amid these changes, Hopkins said travel advertisers should bear in mind three key themes when shaping their campaigns. The first is what she calls a focus on “bucket list” travel, or “those things that people have been thinking for years that they want to do. The pandemic has made everyone feel more like, goodness knows when you’ll be able to do anything, and if you can, you should just jump at the opportunity.”

Enticing people to tick off those bucket list destinations “ties in nicely to emotional advertising,” she added.

The second trend is a greater focus on traveling with friends or family, since so many people have been separated from their loved ones during the pandemic. This theme could lend itself well to advertising that focuses on reconnection, she said.

Finally, as some people have gained a greater appreciation for the outdoors during lockdowns, Hopkins foresees more promotions of natural perks throughout the travel sector.

As the travel industry looks to rebuild, a commonality running throughout its marketing will be a recognition that “everyone’s work and personal lives have blurred, and that’s only sustainable for a certain amount of time,” Hopkins noted. “Now people have got to the point where they need to take an actual break. That plays beautifully into advertisers’ hands.”

Travel advertising in 2021

Some brands have already started advertising in 2021 even amid ongoing uncertainty. Here is a selection of campaigns that reflect the direction of travel.

Milano & Partners and YesMilano “Not in Milano” by We Are Social Italy

This ad to lure business travelers back to Milan focuses on perks that have nothing to do with work, which mirrors the blurring between people’s jobs and personal lives that Hopkins mentioned. Visitors are pictured sipping cocktails and coffee, strolling through picturesque streets and relaxing outdoors between meetings.

Iceland “Looks Like You Need an Adventure” by SS+K

Iceland’s tourism campaign urges travelers to “experience life to its fullest and take on whatever adventure you’ve been craving,” Sigríður Dögg Guðmundsdóttir, head of Visit Iceland, said in a statement. It’s a call to finally tackle that bucket list, as the tourism body offers to upcycle travelers’ old sweatpants into hiking boots to lure them into the country.

Switzerland Tourism “No Drama” by Wirz BBDO

Nature is the bait in Switzerland’s tourism campaign, which sees tennis legend Roger Federer try to convince actor Robert De Niro to take a role in a movie filming in the country by boasting of its stunning natural landscapes.

On the Beach “Someday” by Uncommon Creative Studio

Rock star Iggy Pop is the voice of On the Beach’s campaign, which is all about escapism and dreaming of a brighter future. “We got angry, we got sad, we cried,” Iggy says. “But we picked ourselves up and we started again, knowing that the sun is always shining somewhere.”

EasyJet “Holidoorways” by VCCP

Some travel restrictions may remain, but that doesn’t mean people’s appetite for vacation is any smaller. EasyJet gives customers a chance to become virtual tourists, with AR filters that transport users from their living rooms to European beaches, coves and canals.

Airbnb x Volvic “Volcanic View”

Airbnb offers a chance to visit a bucket list destination at a bargain price of 1 euro (about $1.18): an ecofriendly home surrounded by 80 volcanoes in southern France. The location is the birthplace of partner Volvic’s mineral water. “The past year has demonstrated how connecting with nature is an important resource to regenerate and deal with stress,” Emmanuel Marill, Airbnb’s EMEA director, said in a statement.


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