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How to gain traveler insights during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Listen to your website.

Let’s face it, the pandemic has been brutally hard on most businesses, perhaps none more so than the travel/hospitality industry.

As businesses start to reopen and travel restrictions and gathering restrictions are relaxed, it’s important to be aware of what travelers are looking for as this whole thing evolves.

You can watch the news, and read various industry reports and forecasts, but perhaps you are overlooking one excellent source of intelligence: your own website.

I know, when business is good, and the bookings are piling in, who cares? At least I could excuse the many clients who felt this way, but during a health crisis and the resulting economic contraction? It’s time to really look at the numbers and seriously listen to what your site is trying to tell you.

The following are a few trends that I’ve noticed as the pandemic has unfolded.

Organic Search is the Key Indicator of Interest

Early on, the first thing I noticed was the unmistakable crash in organic traffic. The drastic drop in organic search was a clear sign that now was not a good time to be spending precious dollars on paid advertising, so like most marketers, we stopped nearly every ad campaign we could to analyze the situation, regroup and refocus. We also watched organic search very closely to watch for signs or renewed interest in travel. Once we saw that interest begin to bounce back, we gradually phased ad dollars back into paid search, social media and display ads with updated messaging.

Interest in Alternative Lodging and Activities

The next clear development was that travelers were looking for something different. Through analytics and paid search reports, it was obvious that the content that was king six months ago had now taken a back seat. For example, tourism destinations who’s search traffic was previously dominated by hotel terms, were now seeing more reclusive lodging options such as remote cabins, private home rentals, resorts and houseboats take center stage. It’s all pretty common sense, really – travelers still want to travel, but they want to do so as safely as possible. And, to many, distance and isolation were the key ingredients to a relatively safe vacation.

Of course, these trends didn’t just apply to lodging. Looking at our most viewed pages, we’ve seen that the content that used to be the most popular has dropped way down the list. Before COVID, attractions and events were the stars of many travel sites website. Now, it’s outdoor attractions, parks, camping, trails, biking and golf. Golf courses across the country must be having a record-breaking year. Again, it should have been pretty easy to forecast that, as an outdoor activity with inherent social distancing, golf would do well. The question is what have you done or what are you doing to capitalize on it? If golf, hiking and biking haven’t been moved from the basement of your website to the first floor, they sure should be.

The Cost of Inaction

And finally, the last thing I have noticed from analytics is the cost of inaction. Some in the industry have more or less thrown up their hands and said, “there’s nothing we can do about it” or “we’ll just wait until things start to bounce back”. The analytics are pretty clear in these cases as well. The visits have totally flat-lined along with duration and pages per visit, and bounce rates are relentlessly rising. Why? Because users aren’t seeing content that is relevant to the current and evolving circumstances, and they’re quickly going elsewhere to find it.

Remember the old adage about lemons? Well, it’s time to start making lemonade if you haven’t already. Need help finding your way through the maze of trends and data? Give us a call. W.A. Fisher can help you create a new marketing strategy for your website that will appeal to today’s travelers.