COVID-19 Vaccines Are Here: What This Means for Travel

The recent news that the U.S. is weighing the possibility of requiring a negative COVID-19 test for domestic air travel is a strong reminder of how important the vaccine is for the travel industry, and for all of us who travel for personal or business reasons. The travel, hospitality and leisure sector was one of the hardest hit by the pandemic, accounting for almost four in 10 U.S. jobs lost since February 2020, according to analysis of the latest Department of Labor national jobs report. That’s triple the number of the next-hardest-hit industry. Yes, triple.

 COVID-19 Vaccines Are Here, What This Means for Travel - Woman Planning Travel Using Computer, Journal and Map

The Travel, Hospitality & Leisure team at Ketchum is watching out for opportunities or setbacks the vaccine may create for the industry, such as Vaccination Passports, Digital ID cards, and other forms of paperwork that may begin to be implemented to categorize us as “safer to travel.” Whether you work at a destination, a travel brand or represent the leisure sector, here are some considerations to ensure you’re prepared when it comes to marketing communications.

The pandemic isn’t over

While the fantasy of hopping on a plane and jetting off to a much-needed vacation—free of masks and social distancing—is inching closer to reality, the pandemic isn’t over just because frontline workers, senior citizens and those with higher risk are in the preliminary stages of vaccination. Recent data by Longwoods International reveals that 81% of travelers report having travel plans for the next six months due to vaccinations ramping up. This is GREAT, but…

Remember: Industry leaders must continue to drive the point home that 2020-esque precautions need to be carried well into 2021, lest you risk further social resistance to such measures. Continue to communicate optimized COVID-19 precautions and devise new ways to keep travelers safe and satisfied. It’s not OK to show creative that doesn’t yet resemble reality. Add engaging new messages to emphasize how vital it is for everyone to see these precautions through.

Mischievous misinformation

Regardless of intent, misinformation is one of the deadliest factors in combatting the pandemic. Among the current misleading notions is the idea that the vaccines will negatively impact one’s health (the vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna have been proved to be more than 94% effective in trials, with minimal side effects). Misinformation could run even more rampant if you aren’t correcting and being deliberate in your marketing communications around the handling of entry requirements, testing onsite and the like.

Remember: Per recent Destination Analysts data, the top three channels U.S. travelers are most receptive to learning about destinations to visit or leisure brands are via websites or news sites found via a search engine, via online content (articles and blogs), and via social networks (Facebook, Instagram, etc.) Since travelers are seeking information in these places, it’s your responsibility to deliver it to them clearly, consistently and succinctly. Industry leaders must bear the responsibility of stopping misinformation about their brand in its tracks, both on your owned or social channels and when it’s being communicated via third parties. When it comes to health, a safe travel and leisure experience is a shared responsibility.

Identifying your new normal

It’s no surprise that vaccines play a large role in American travelers’ vision of a return to some sort of normalcy. Destination Analysts data shows that an effective vaccine widely distributed in the U.S and an effective vaccine widely distributed around the globe are the two top factors that will take them there.  While vaccine distribution is not something most organizations can control, especially those that move employees and customers around the globe, outlining new norms will be of utmost importance.

Remember: Similar to how the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center changed airport security measures for good, we’ll soon all be wondering how we ever traveled or enjoyed leisure activity differently before the pandemic. Given the pace of vaccinations around the world (and noting that the vaccine itself is a personal choice—not mandatory), identifying these new norms, and developing a marketing communications plan early on, will be critical to getting ahead of the wave of changes to come.

Let us know how we can help your organization navigate this phase of the pandemic by reaching out.

Bettina is a senior vice president leading Ketchum’s Travel, Hospitality & Leisure sector in New York. She brings years of experience leading integrated marketing communications campaigns and is an expert at building and elevating destinations, travel and hospitality brands through media relations, consumer engagement, and strategic partnerships and events. She has a Masters from NYU in corporate communications and has received numerous best-in-class awards for campaigns she’s spearheaded—including Ketchum’s most awarded PR-led campaign for one of her destination clients.