The road trip boom is coming. While people around the world are understandably wary of traveling anytime soon, the data points to road trips as the clear starting point for travel recovery. Public transportation from trains to airplanes is still perceived as unsafe, while personal vehicles are not. In terms of destinations, parks and other wide-open spaces are already seeing newfound popularity. State and National Parks saw record visitation levels in the early days of the pandemic with Arches National Park seeing a 40% increase in visits before temporarily closing down (1). Lastly, fuel prices are among the lowest they have been in years, an important consideration in a time of economic uncertainty. The stage is set for a surge in road trips, but what does this mean for travel brands?
Turn your focus inward
Research shows that most travelers plan on going on domestic trips post-COVID before venturing abroad, so prioritize local audiences. Two-thirds of Americans expect their first post-COVID travel to be a road trip (2). Globally, 29% plan to take more vacations domestically rather than abroad (3). For countries like the USA and Australia, road trips are a well-established part of national culture. Encouraging locals to explore their own state, province, or country will be a logical first step. If focused on boosting international visitation, look to your nearest neighbors first, especially if they’re just across a land border or a bridge/tunnel.
Create low-touch and no-touch experiences
34% of consumers say they’ll use mobile payment services more frequently after the COVID-19 crisis, and 43% say they’ll do more shopping online (3). The last thing anyone wants to do is touch a dirty credit card terminal or turnstile. Hotels big and small should be looking at how they can go beyond online booking and enable online check-in and check-out. Parks and other attractions should enable electronic payment and license plate-based parking passes. Museums should make their guided tours available through apps rather than headsets used by multiple visitors on any given day. If it can be done digitally, make it so.
Think locally with media planning
A lot has changed since the beginning of the COVID crisis in terms of media consumption. News, streaming video, and social media usage has risen significantly, while Out of Home (OOH) has been rendered impractical due to Stay at Home orders. As cities, states, and countries begin to slowly reopen, OOH may break through more than ever after its forced “hiatus.” Boards near the edge of town could entice eager-to-travel commuters to drive just a bit further for a weekend getaway while roadside highway boards may get a second look after months away from the spotlight. From a digital perspective, geotargeting nearby cities and towns with road trip messaging will be more timely and relevant than in pre-COVID times. For local restaurants, gas stations, and coffee shops, now would be a great time to start thinking about local search ads on Google / Google Maps to help passing motorists find what they need.
Create useful content and products
Put your owned channels to use — create articles and itineraries that will help viewers to plan safe and enjoyable road trips. You may already have some of this content on your website, but consider the new needs of post-COVID travelers and revise or supplement as appropriate. Less cities and more parks / roadside attractions — the further off-the-beaten-path and away from crowds the better. Don’t forget about the road trip experience itself; consider creating playlists for the drive or “road trip essential” kits with maps, snacks, books...and hand sanitizer.
Travel later but prepare now
Widespread travel is still a ways away, but now is the time to plan for the new road trip reality. As the presumed first foray back into travel for most people, brands should plan their products, experiences, and marketing accordingly. Air travel will slowly bounce back, but savvy marketers will first turn their focus to the streets — the open road is calling.
About Beautiful Destinations
Rooted in one of the largest social media communities of travelers in the world – 25 million people turn to us daily on Instagram, Facebook, Youtube, TikTok – Beautiful Destinations is a full-service travel marketing and media company that helps tourism boards and travel brands navigate the new world of travel. Our mission is to have a positive impact on the world through travel.