Travel Advertising on TV in the Time of COVID-19

One of the most devastated industries from the COVID-19 outbreak is travel, for obvious reasons. But that doesn’t mean travel brands are pulling out of TV altogether. 

Some, like Hotels.com are generating new creative suitable for the times and keeping a presence on TV. And when the time is right, travel companies looking to come back to TV can utilize deterministic performance measurement for optimizing ad spend. For instance, top networks delivering high conversion rates (ad exposures that drive business outcomes) so far in 2020 for travel brands come not from sports but from news and information networks: CNBC (33.52%), CNN (25.99%), Fox News (22.39%), MSNBC (21.35%).

Only time will tell if brands in these categories follow some of the marketing trends of 2008, and invest in maintaining some top of mind presence or start to roll out discounted travel to keep consumers engaged. But for now, here’s what it looks like on TV.


Travel Websites Pull Back, Hotels.com Leans In

  • At this point last March (March 1-22, 2019), estimated TV ad spending was at $53.3 million with close to 30,000 airings, and 5.36 billion impressions — 10% of which would be pegged to college basketball. This year, the industry booked $17.3 million in TV ad spend, on 9,000 airings and 10% impressions still went to basketball. 
  • $6.2 million of TV ad spending comes since March 11 — the day the NBA announced it was suspending play.

  • Hotels.com remained active through March 22, and recently launched this ad with “Captain Obvious.
  • Hotels.com has spent nearly $2.9 million on TV ads since March 11, with 85% on national live linear — with most of that going toward shows on reality programming and movies.
  • Hotels.com has spent $6.2 million this March, vs. $9.7 million last March (so they’re on pace to actually spend more this time around).


Airlines are all but off TV as of March 11. Delta did a push around Super Tuesday. The only activity beyond that is coming from local ads by Allegiant — and some pushes by Jet companies, Net Jet and BAJ It, the private airline which started a modest buy on daytime news channels the week of March 16.

Comparing March 1-18 2020 to the same period last year, spending is up for airlines from $381,000 in 2019 to $660,000 in 2020, with impressions up from 71 million to 110 million this year. Connected TV is steady at 3.7%, and local was tracking at 21% of investment this year, a sharp decline from 52% a year ago.

Top Creatives in March 2020


Cruises

  • Cruiselines were up in spending heading into March 8 year over year, are bottoming out now; March spending is typically on the lower end for cruiselines — it was just $10.1 million in 2019 — but was on pace for a bigger month (currently at $4.2 million) before coronavirus fears took hold.
  • Just $28,196 has been spent on TV this week (half of that on Laura McKenzie’s Traveler).
  • Since March 8, just 71.1% of impressions have appeared on national live linear TV — that’s sunk to just 20.2% since March 15. 

Hotels

  • Hotel brands have spent just $1.9 million on TV advertising this past week (starting March 15) vs. $13.6 million for the whole month of March so far.
  • Choice Hotels has led the way in terms of spend ($2.6 million) and impressions (672.9 million) in March, and was the only hotel brand really showing up on national live linear TV by the latter half of this week — picking up impressions largely on Fox News.
  • Choice has actually been third in impressions for the full year, despite only starting to appear on TV in mid-February; the brand only spent about $40,000 on linear TV ads between October 30, 2019 and February 10, 2020.
  • Hotel brand spending is down compared to last March — brands spent $40.1 million on TV ads in March 2019, vs. $13.6 million for this March so far.

Theme Parks

Spending March 1-22 decreased year-over-year on national ads from $18.5 million in 2019 to $10.6mm in 2020. The category has spent $3.8 million since the NBA announced a suspended play March 11.

Likely because of the long-standing relationships with networks (Disney, Universal), theme parks haven’t been able to turn down advertising quite as fast as other brands. That said, a lot of theme parks play long sales cycle value marketing to build desires, so it’s possible the calculation was to turn it down but not off.

The category benefitted from the large increase in news viewership around COVID-19, which shows up in the distribution of reach.


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