What travel can learn from the world’s most beloved brands

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Travel is at a tipping point. Study after study shows rising generations prioritize spending over experiences over things, and more people choose going on trips over traditional retail. The shift is a prime opportunity for the industry to move from something “nice to have” to a “must have.” Eventbrite data found the share of total spend allocated to experiences in the United States has grown 70% since the birth of the first millennial.

Travel to Beyonce and Taylor Swift concerts meaningfully added to the global economy: a staggering $5.4 billion, according to Bloomberg Economics. Experts from Euromonitor note the travel experiences sector alone is a serviceable addressable market of $320 billion, and by the end of 2024, $375 billion.

And yet, not a single travel brand ranks among the top 50 most trusted brands in the U.S., according to an Axios Harris poll. The Interbrand Top 100, which names the globe’s 100 most valuable brands, includes just one travel company, Airbnb, and it trails companies known for diapers, networking software and financial services.

After spending more than a decade managing iconic household brands in the worlds of music and beverages, I’ve just joined the tourism industry, and here’s my first take: I think it’s the perfect time for travel to combine a cultural shift in values (experiences > stuff), industry momentum and a spirit of innovation to shift the conversation and move the industry forward. I see three main opportunities to do that:

Get out of the utility mindset

Many travel brands overinvest in performance marketing or focus solely on tactical parts of the consumer experience. They sell on price and convenience. However, focusing on utility is not sustainable if you don’t invest in building your brand in parallel.

It’s easy to focus solely on trackable digital marketing to drive your business. But don’t neglect the other part of marketing: brand-building. Let’s take an example from one of the top brands worldwide: Apple. When they market a smartwatch, they don’t focus only on speeds and feeds. They create emotional, high-quality campaigns that tell human stories of people who have had their lives saved thanks to their Apple Watch.

Those tangible stories of impact have great power to build trust with consumers. People don’t just need the product; they identify meaningfully with the brand.

Hire and partner outside traditional travel industry

One observation I have is that tourism is a profession with a rich tradition. Travel brands often choose to partner with one another and hire from other hospitality brands. But industries no longer keep to one “lane.” When you think about the top brands in the world, like Nike, Coca-Cola and Google, it’s hard to place these companies in one single area.

 There is a rising class of excellent talent at the mid-to-senior level that comes from consumer packaged goods, finance, entertainment, you name it. And I bet there are plenty of smart people passionate about travel who would love to apply their learnings and work in the industry.

 In my opinion, one of the reasons that Airbnb continues to stand apart from other travel brands is that it has always brought an outsider’s point of view into hospitality, creating an entirely new segment in the industry as a result.

Founded by designers and technologists, and grown through a dedication to brand storytelling, Airbnb’s continued growth stems from bringing together different perspectives. And the result includes campaigns that tap into the zeitgeist, like the viral Barbie house or a K-Pop themed Seoul Fashion Week campaign.

Lean into emotion, not just reliability

Travel is one of the most emotional experiences we can have as people. And yet, so much of the industry does not tap into that in their content or messaging.

Budweiser does this incredibly well, and I’m proud to have worked on the brand. Our brand purpose was rooted in championing the American spirit and shining a light on “ordinary people doing extraordinary things.” This drove everything we did and everything we attached our brand to.

So when it came to activating Budweiser’s key passion point of sports, we leveraged our purpose to identify creative territories and cultural moments to tap into. My favorite example of this was “This Bud’s For 3,” our emotional film and campaign to honor Miami Heat legend Dwyane Wade’s retirement. This campaign broke all benchmarks for earned media and social conversation and drove sales volume in the Miami area.

In addition, there are lots of promising ways that emerging technology such as artificial intelligence will tap into emotions. At GetYourGuide, we’re particularly interested in making it easier for customers to discover experiences based on how a tour/activity will make them feel, instead of having to rely on filters and scrolling to find that perfect thing to do. 

Where should travel brands start?

As we approach a new year – and a new era for our industry – it can be challenging to fathom where to start as a travel brand looking to make brand investments.

Start with the basics, and with what you know. The travel industry is already customer-oriented. So begin with understanding your audience, defining your story and role and sketching how to build an authentic relationship and connection. Also, just because you want to test and try brand-building doesn’t mean you have to suddenly hire a team of specialists. There are plenty of partners and marketplaces that can work with you to reach travelers. For example, at GetYourGuide, we proudly partner with 18,000-plus experience creators and thousands of travel brands, including hotels, airlines and online travel agencies, to drive awareness of our brand to travelers.

My hope is that one day other industries look to travel for inspiration on how to attract, retain and build generational relationships with customers.

About the author …

Madison Pietrowski is the director of brand for the U.S. at GetYourGuide.

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