Marketing and PR ideas for travel agencies during Covid-19

Now is the best time to give your travel business the edge over others with these PR and marketing ideas.

Let’s be honest, at the moment your liquor cabinet may be the only thing you’ve been saving that you want to explore! That being said, those marketing and business ideas you’ve wanted to develop for so long and haven’t had the time for – that’s what you really should look at opening up.

After the Global Financial Crisis, businesses that were ready to hit the ground running when the recovery began were the ones most likely to thrive. The current temptation with the coronavirus pandemic may be to bunker down and hope for the best, but if you own an agency or other travel business and are proactive in the coming months, you could ultimately increase your market share on the ‘other side’.

By all means, increase your efficiencies and look at your operating costs, but DO invest in your communications and public relations (PR) activity in the coming months.

I just called to say, “I love you.”

Your customer database is absolute gold – now and always. Businesses have been purchased based on their databases alone so think about that when you question the value of your client and mailing list.

Pick up the phone and invest some time in customer relations 101 (and update their details while you’re at it). Make it clear from the outset that you’re not calling to sell anything and are just touching base during this quieter time. You may find some people could do with a good chat at this time; in the words of Carl W. Buehner, “They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”

Follow up with a hand-written card with a fun photo of your team to add another personal touch and give a face to your travel brand. If you have the budget, add in a small gift for your best clients – it’s the thought that counts, especially when your only daily joy is seeing a delivery person at your doorstep! 

Emails with a distinct difference

Create a plan for emailing your clients and establish a regular schedule. Look into tools such as Canva, Mailchimp and Ampjar that can make this process easier and incredibly insightful in terms of what interests your audience.

Think about what your clients want to see right now and their possible frame of mind. Are they time poor, are they looking for inspiration, or is their head space elsewhere? Will they be looking to travel as soon as they are able – with a domestic focus – or would they rather wait for 2022 to book that big international escape?

How can you stand out from the crowd and make that subject line compelling? Being incredibly transparent about how you’re feeling right now and making it personal could be one way (without compromising your business, of course), for example: “Why we’re feeling completely lost for the first time.” You’ll likely find that your clients will relate to the content, which will enhance that personal connection.

Perhaps you could work with a digital agency to create a simple (branded) online scrapbook tool or vision board where clients can insert their favourite travel images as inspiration for when they want to start holiday planning again.

If you don’t have a comprehensive client list, you could partner with a trade publication such as KarryOn to send an email on your behalf. Remember that most media outlets have experienced an increase in audiences due to COVID-19 with audiences having more spare time on their hands, so consider paid content, as long as your message is carefully considered. 

How can we be different?

Organisations have been impressive so far with their virtual offerings. Is there a specialty your business could explore but in a different way?

Facebook has rolled out a free group video chat to its Messenger platform (up to 50 users per call and they don’t need an account), which may feel more accessible for some clients than Zoom when available.

Perhaps you could offer ‘drinks’ at ‘Hotel [insert travel agency name here]’ and invite your clients to join in via video call. You could make it more fun by setting up your office to look like a resort (Google search: “Where can I find a mini palm tree?”) and have a guest entertainer. You could invite customers to share their holiday experiences and/or to ask questions from the experts (a.k.a. your team). You could offer an extra incentive of a small prize to the customer that has the best video call setting!


Why chocolate is the key to understanding customer offerings

Chocolate as a product has traditionally performed well during recessions and that’s because it’s seen as an affordable luxury during these times.

With limited access to annual leave, decreased incomes, and the possibility of airfare price increases, offering different price points could be essential, such as organised day trips with a difference, or luxury weekend breaks.

Speaking of chocolate (and from personal experience in lock down), we predict a demand soon for travel bootcamps or active holidays, where we can quench our thirst for travel while sipping water and losing all those extra quarantine kilos! 

Don’t be socially distant (online)

Now is the time to keep giving those social accounts some love, whether that’s Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube or Pinterest. TikTok is a great one to explore at the moment for video. It may be popular with younger audiences, but it can also easily be shared with other platforms such as Instagram. Most importantly, it’s a whole lot of fun and who doesn’t appreciate a laugh at the moment?

Remember that video is king in terms of what audiences are consuming e.g. YouTube and Insta stories, but it’s also important to populate your feeds. Always entertain or provide value for your followers – if it’s not engaging, don’t post it as this will affect your ranking via the dreaded algorithm.

Sit down and plan out your content while you have the opportunity, including the copy (text) and images/video. If you don’t have professional imagery available, use a phone with a good-quality camera to capture your photos and videos. Free apps such as InShot can take your content to the next level, while apps such as Later can help map out what the images in your Instagram feed will look like.  

Are you digitally ‘out there’?

As you’re developing that social content, some topics might jump out at you as great starting points for a blog post. Get those blogs and online articles happening as they’ll make a big difference to your SEO – Google loves backlinks from trusted websites and it also loves new website content. Think about which search terms potential clients will use to help shape your blog, and remember that people can be very specific these days e.g. “Budget escapes in South Australia when borders open”.

Speaking of which, now is definitely the time to make sure your website is en pointe and that:

  • it’s mobile friendly
  • all the links work throughout the site.
  • contact details are easy to find/contact forms are easy to fill
  • you have a sign-up area for your e-news
  • all information is updated
  • you have images of team members
  • individual web pages load fast
  • you have a comprehensive Google ‘My Business’ listing

Remember that customers are becoming even more dependent on online services as a result of COVID-19 so your digital presence is more important than ever.

It’s also worth spending the time asking clients to review your business on Google, which again will assist your SEO efforts and also provide reassurance for new customers. 

Become your own publicist

If you don’t currently have the budget to engage a PR consultant or agency, consider how you could generate your own publicity right now.

Think about the media outlets your clients read, listen to or watch, and what kind of stories those publications are currently producing. Remember that many travel media outlets are currently on hiatus or have a different focus currently – and don’t forget podcasts.

Do you have a story angle to offer that is compelling and newsworthy? Take a step back and think about whether that angle is something that would be of genuine interest to the outlet’s audience or if it actually sounds like advertising (hint: it should be the former)!

Media angles could include ground-breaking initiatives your business is currently undertaking; research-focussed articles; interesting trend predictions or booking patterns; a ‘feel good’ story; or an honest insight from one of your business owners.

Many influencers or content producers are also currently experiencing a decrease in business, so you might want to look at establishing an affordable strategic partnership with one now. Look further than just travel – you want someone whom your clients would follow and trust.

Get your marketing skates on

Consumers may increasingly look to travel agents for bookings as a result of COVID-19 for peace of mind, so make sure you communicate the benefits of using your services in your communications materials.

It’s now or never when it comes to dedicating the time to your marketing and PR. Be that business that’s ready to fly when the time is right.


A version of this article originally appeared in the travel trade publication, KarryOn here.