Holiday Companies using Brand Aligned communications to navigate through COVID

Tabitha - 21 st January 2021

It’s January. The month when we expect to be inundated with emails, deals and other advertising from holiday companies tempting us with sunny getaways or last-minute ski deals whilst we experience our winter blues. TUI call the first Saturday of the New Year ‘Sunshine Saturday’ as it is the day they receive the most bookings for the whole year and according to a recent survey by the world’s largest tourism group, January is the highest selling month for holidays in Europe.

The past 12 months have been different in many ways, but we are still seeing scenes of beautiful beaches and blue seas on our screens, enticing us to book a holiday for 2021. As always, there are a few different approaches that holiday companies are taking with their communications; we have some companies choosing to keep relatively quiet, whilst others are taking a bold, somewhat controversial approach with their comms.

The travel industry has had a tough year to say the least, both from a financial and ‘human’ point of view. The bad press and numerous complaints received have meant that this year, holiday companies and airlines had big hurdles to overcome with their approach to communicating with customers. This means that now, more than ever, it is not only important to communicate clearly, but also to remain brand aligned through their campaigns.

By looking at some of the market leaders, we can consider some of the approaches being taken, and importantly, their brand alignment.

TUI have gone down the lines of luring us in and tempting us with the campaign ‘nothing compares to a real holiday’. The idea of their campaign is that to get a true escape, you need to go abroad, a sly dig at the rise of ‘staycations’ in the UK. They do all this whilst reassuring us about what we are all worried about, offering flexibility and free cancellation. The ad is well aligned to their brand. TUI’ values ‘Trusted’, ‘Unique’ and ‘Inspiring’ are all brought to life through the reassuring language and inspiring imagery in their comms and it is clear that they have made use of customer insight as they speak of ‘escaping routine’, ‘making memories’ and ‘relaxing and recharging’.

Ryanair have certainly got us talking with their new campaign ‘Jab and Go’. It has been heavily criticised, labelled ‘disgusting’ and ‘insensitive’ and is even being investigated by Watchdog after receiving so many complaints. Whether intentionally or not, they have firmly taken the stance of ‘any publicity is good publicity’. Whilst there is an argument that the brand has alienated a proportion of potential customers with this approach, when considering brand alignment it cannot be denied that the campaign is aligned to the brand. It is bold, brash and to the point with a call to action that is hard to ignore, placing themselves at the front of the queue for those most likely to fly and travel during the early stages of COVID recovery (i.e. those who have had their vaccinations). It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, to say the least, but Ryanair have their eyes set on their target customer and whether we like it or not, we can all understand what their brand is about through this campaign.

Ryanair tells people to 'jab and go' after getting Covid vaccine | Metro  News
On the Beach
On the Beach have gone all out and released what may as well be a feature length film- a humorous and very current two-minute ad with the message ‘everything’s better on the beach and its ready when you are’, featuring Iggy Pop. The campaign intends to be inclusive and offer hope in a time where we all need it. As with Ryanair, the ad may not be everyone’s cup of tea but their brand alignment is brilliant; the ad is witty, a little silly and cheeky with references to current affairs that have been hot topics of conversation (“we have followed government guidelines, eat in, eat out”). Their personality shines through with the voice of Iggy Pop and whilst the TV ad doesn’t offer much in terms of information around cancellation and flexibility, their other comms have taken this role, offering a ‘COVID promise’ to all customers, highlighting their recognition of the importance of reassuring their customers.

Ready When You Are | Everything's Better On the Beach | On the Beach
Brands remaining relatively quiet

Many key players, such as Expedia, Travel Republic and are remaining relatively quiet when it comes to advertising campaigns. It could be that after all the scrutiny holidays companies have experienced, they don’t want to be criticised for saying the wrong thing in such an ever-changing environment, or simply that budgets are not allowing for a big campaign. However, all of these brands are still placing heavy emphasis on reassurance and flexibility in their comms. Travel Republic are a brand that take pride in being ‘for the people’, with their overall positioning being centred around helping people get the holiday they deserve. Although their comms are limited in comparison to the likes of TUI, their messaging and their ‘holiday promise’ are certainly aligned to their brand- as a customer I would feel I was getting the holiday I deserved with the protection and reassurance I required.

Due to the backlash travel companies have received, and the consumer view that its simply too risky to book a holiday without reassurance in such uncertain times, what every holiday company has in common through their comms, whether they have launched big advertising campaigns or not, is their emphasis on flexibility and reassurance of cancellation terms. It seems this is a necessity now as all brands are doing it in their own way. However this means that this approach has become commonplace, making it more of an expectation than a ‘selling point’. I would hypothesise that flexibility will remain an expectation after the days of COVID as customers get used to this new way of booking holidays. In leisure research we find that once consumers experience flexibility in this way, they do not want to go back.

This means that brand alignment is key to success. In a market filled with frustration, worry and continuous bad press, bringing the brand to life through a great campaign is a brand’s way of showing customers who they are and what they stand for, giving reason to go to them over all the other competitors, of course the customer experience then has to deliver. The one thing all of the brands are doing is offering their version of hope to those who wish to travel and explore again. The issue that follows may be that once they have hooked their customers, will they be able to deliver all the way through the experience, where there will be many variables beyond their control?

Whether we ‘like’ their communications or not is down to personal opinion, but those who have remained brand aligned are telling us they have a clear, consistent message throughout their organisation- they know themselves and they know their audience, and this goes a long way in building consumer confidence and loyalty. ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Tabitha is a Senior CX Strategist who loves to immerse herself in brands and facilitate research to provide clients with brilliant, customer focused insight. Having made the leap from the world of law, she utilises her research and strategy skills across a wide range of sectors. Alongside work, she enjoys horse riding and loves to travel whenever she gets the chance. 
Find out more about Tabitha