Ready for take-off: why adspend on travel could grow 6 times faster than average

Adspend in the travel sector is poised to smash global growth trends. But how can performance marketers optimise for jittery post-pandemic travellers?

The Zenith’s Business Intelligence - Travel report forecasts that travel advertising in 13 key markets will expand by 24 percent in 2021, before 36 percent growth in 2022 and 19 percent growth in 2023.  

As global travel starts to recover, brands need to rebuild their relationships with consumers as they adapt to the realities of post-COVID travel, from the decline of business travel to demand for  low-carbon journeys.

Travel advertising was one of the categories hardest-hit by COVID. The travel ad market  lost nearly half its value in 2020 (46 percent), while the ad market as a whole shrank by just 4 percent.  Zenith estimates that travel adspend fell by nearly half, from $18billion in 2019 to $9.7billion in 2020.  

Pent-up demand for travel will drive rapid growth in travel adspend over the next few years,  but it will be a long road back to pre-pandemic spending. Travel adspend will be still 33 percent  below its 2019 level this year, while the ad market as a whole will be 7 percent ahead. It will take  until 2023 for travel to exceed 2019 levels of spending, when it will reach US$19.6bn. 

Travel is becoming a digital experience  

Ben Lukawski, global chief strategy officer at Zenith, says: “Travel was one of the earliest sectors to embrace digital as booking went online. Post-COVID, the best-performing brands will complete this transformation by making the total experience digital, from reducing form  filling to contactless entry, removing nearly all possible friction from the experience.”  

Travel advertisers spend more on digital advertising than the average brand – 63 percent in 2020,  compared to 58 percent on average. This is not surprising for a category that has been well ahead  of the market in digital transformation, conducting 32 percent of sales by e-commerce in 2021 compared to 20 percent for retail as a whole.  

Digital travel advertising aims to capture consumers in the early stage of research, through  search advertising and display and video ads within relevant content. As travel becomes  ever more digital, digital advertising will become even more important for both brand building  and conversion. Integrating travel apps with vaccine passports, using them to help consumer  navigate local COVID-related rules and bureaucracy, and offering digital concierge services  will accelerate the transition of travel towards a seamless digital experience, from initial  research to enjoying the destination. 

Zenith forecasts digital adspend by travel brands to grow by 6 percent a year between 2019 and 2023. By 2023 travel brands will be spending 70 percent of their budgets on digital advertising, an  increase from 63 percent in 2020.  

Travel advertisers spend substantially more of their budgets on newspapers, magazines and  out-of-home than average (20 percent in 2020, compared to 13 percent for the average brand), and  substantially less on television (13 percent compared to an average of 24 percent). 

Consumers are  looking for choice and value, so media that allow brands to display a range of options and  some details of pricing are particularly effective. Travel adspend in print is falling as  circulations continue to shrink, but out-of-home is forecast to recover from its slump in 2020  and grow at an average rate of 6 percent a year between 2019 and 2023.  

Brands seek out new travellers in Asia and Eastern Europe  

Zenith expects the fastest growth in travel advertising to come from India and Russia, where  travel adspend will be 31 percent and 21 percent respectively above the 2019 baseline by 2023. Here,  rising disposable incomes mean more people are travelling, and existing travellers are travelling more frequently. The same holds true for China and Poland, where adspend will  increase by 16 percent and 14 percent respectively between 2019 and 2023.  

The robust US ad market is pushing up media prices, which is the main reason why travel  adspend will be 13 percent higher there in 2023 and in 2019. Other mature markets will range from  +9 percent to -9 percent growth over this period, depending on consumer demand, media inflation,  adoption of digital technology, and a myriad of other reasons. 

In all markets, though, the  recovery of travel advertising from the slump in 2020 will be well behind the growth of the market as a whole.  

Jonathan Barnard, Head of Forecasting, Zenith, adds: “As travel begins to recover from the unprecedented drop in demand in 2020, brands are  rebuilding their relationships with consumers, using digital technology to guide them at every  stage,” said. “Online video in particular will  play a key role in creating emotional connections with consumers, inviting them to take their  first step on their digital journey."  

The 13 markets included in this report are Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy,  Poland, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, UK and USA, which between them account for 74 percent of total  global adspend.