Virginia Sheridan
Virginia Sheridan

Travel is back, and visions of flying to exotic places, sailing on blue oceans and exploring magical places are dancing in our heads. I’m ready to join the revelry but wondering if we shouldn’t listen to Bette Davis’ famous words in “All About Eve”: “fasten your seatbelts because it’s going to be a bumpy night.”

While consumers, the industry and the media are elated at the prospect of people traveling again, there are also considerations travel marketers need to keep in mind as they frame new marketing plans and ponder the best ways to re-stimulate business.

For many, the big question now is what comes after “we’re open?”

At a recent strategy session for a large client, attendees were asked: “what worries you the most about post-pandemic marketing?” Of all the expected responses, one stood out: “desperation marketing.” It’s the bumpy night for travel.

We’ve all been there: desperation marketing is a product of anxiety in an effort to save the next travel season; it’s putting price before quality; it ignores brand consideration and does little to build customer loyalty. In some instances, desperation marketing causes confusion and problems instead of solutions, such as over-tourism or the wrong image that takes years to correct.

This article is featured in O'Dwyer's July '21 Travel & Tourism PR Magazine
(view PDF version)

As we ponder the “new normal,” we should reflect on lessons learned from the pandemic. 2020 was a roller-coaster for sure, with relentless twists, turns and pivots. PR pros were pressed into keeping clients afloat in the absence of any form of travel. Even so, some great work was generated last year through virtual means, messaging that built customer confidence and trust and promotion of C-suite executives.

According to an airline communications executive, it’s imperative “to engage consumers in the places where they are, and do it in a manner that is authentic, honest and strategic.”

At FINN Travel & Lifestyle, we took the path of creating a Global Travel Recovery Network of agency and external experts in multiple disciplines. The network allowed us to bring together best-in-class specialists to craft programs with strategically focused messaging, research and issue trend reports, conduct influencer marketing campaigns with high ROI and develop platforms to increase client brand awareness in the areas of sustainability, reputation management and diversity.

Our efforts resulted in global coverage that illustrated marketing innovation and resiliency through nearly 5,000 placements and over 23 billion media impressions achieved in 2020. These results kept clients in front of critical audiences and laid a foundation for restarting far in advance of actual recovery.

Another Network benefit was the advancement of the agency’s approach to IMC—in theory a common agency offering—but not always easy to deliver. There’s almost always something that gets in the way of the seamless operation of integrated marketing communications programs, including contending with different workstyles and cultures, workflow management, cost containment and turf wars.

An example of how this all comes together can be seen with new agency client Visit Panama, where we have pulled in specialists across sectors to deliver results-driven campaigns that are aimed at moving the needle and influencing consumer travel decisions.

David Scowsill, FINN Partners Travel Advisory Board and Global Recovery Network member said, “The competition will be fierce. The winners will be those that find the right messaging—with family reunions, health protocols and sustainability top of the agenda—and the right balance between social, influencers, digital and traditional media.”

FINN’s “one P&L” approach serves as a gateway to growth, practice integration and client satisfaction. Typical agency swim lanes have been dissolved to enable seamless cross-office-cross-practice client servicing, and global practice leads watch over orbiting business units while project managers keep programs on track. Our specialists in research, digital, sustainability, health, CSR & social impact and Diversity & Inclusion are always at the ready to help clients in brand improvement and customer acquisition. And, as a truly integrated agency we can mobilize the best teams to work on client business regardless of geography or industry sector.

There are lessons of a lifetime coming out of the pandemic. Teams worked harder than ever and willingly had each other’s backs and jobs, and clients were saved through technology that facilitated work from anywhere. Most importantly, we kept travel alive in the absence of actual travel.

Travel is back. Let’s do the most for it with integrated approaches that make the act and thought of travel rewarding.


Virginia Sheridan is Travel and Lifestyle Managing Partner, USA Travel Lead at FINN Partners.