The UK’s travel industry is showing increased signs of post-Covid recovery but people’s attitudes towards travel have changed during the pandemic. In September, Google registered a three-fold increase in travel searches in the UK while data from Insider Intelligence and eMarketer projects a 33% increase in travel ad spending in the UK this year.

However, surveys carried out by YouGov reveal the pandemic and growing concerns about the environment are changing attitudes towards travel. As the industry recovers from its most difficult period in peacetime, marketers need to understand the evolved attitudes of their target audiences and adapt their messages.

What are we looking at in this article?

Throughout the travel search and booking process, there are five key audiences you need to target as purchase intent gradually increases. The audiences we’re discussing in this article are:

  1. People with no travel plans in mind (yet)
  2. People deciding where to go
  3. The first bookings (flights, hotels, etc.)
  4. Secondary bookings (transport, restaurants, attractions, etc.)
  5. People travelling in your area

These five target audiences cover the entire travel search and booking process, starting from the first step of inspiration, right through the planning stage and into the booking processes before and during the trip.

Audience #1: No travel plans in mind (yet)

Casually browsing the web and going about their lives

Your first target audience doesn’t even realise they want to go on holiday yet. They’re simply going about their business and your first job is to spark that initial travel interest.

Social advertising is the ideal place to start with this target audience. This is where people see all their friends’ holiday pictures and follow influencers leading the kind of luxury life they dream of.

Your goal at this stage is to show them this dream is only a short holiday away, so start with Facebook and Instagram ads that show people the kind of travel experience they’re craving. With Facebook and Instagram, you’re covering the majority of travel demographics but you should also take a look at TikTok and Pinterest, both of which boast impressive engagement metrics for travel inspiration.

A snapshot of TikTok’s feed for the travel hashtag.
A snapshot of TikTok’s feed for the travel hashtag.

If you’re in the hotel business, emphasise the locations you’re promoting and the travel experience rather than your rooms at this stage of the funnel. Focus on those dreamy images of the perfect trip to inspire people – all you need to do is look at the top Instagram travel influencers to get an idea of what people want from their travels.

Photos of an exotic holiday

Look for influencers that resonate with your target audience (e.g. luxury travel vs adventure travel) and what kind of content is making most of an impact with their followers. This gives you a good idea of what your audience will respond to as they’re scrolling down their feed.

Keep in mind that people’s idea of the perfect getaway may be different in the age of Covid-19. Google data from earlier this year revealed that many UK travellers are prioritising the important people in their lives over destinations after several lockdowns.

The domestic travel boom also shows an increased interest in UK holiday destinations although searches for international travel are recovering with growing consideration for sustainability and the environment.


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Audience #2: Deciding where to go

Researching and comparing locations for their next holiday

Once someone decides they’re going on a trip, the next key action is choosing where to go. These people aren’t casually browsing anymore; they’re actively looking for travel destinations and search engines are going to be the first place they turn to.

This is a key area where travel search interests have changed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Safety is one key theme with searches for case rates in destinations and insurance that covers medical care for Covid-19, among other interests.

Reliability is the other key theme with travellers searching for money-back guarantees in the event of cancellations or regulation changes.

Throughout the pandemic, Google has adapted its travel search products to provide users with crucial information about the latest Covid-19 info for their destinations of interest.

Mobile search results for hotels in portsmouth

Once again, the increased interest in domestic travel is relevant here and directly related to concerns over reliable travel plans. By travelling within the UK, people don’t need to worry about border regulations but the summer revealed new concerns about overcrowding, soaring prices and businesses struggling to cope with higher demand and safety measures.

Make sure you know what your target audience is searching for at this stage of the research process. Most of this is done on mobile and ranking in the top positions for the right keywords when people are looking for travel inspiration is the ideal time to introduce your brand.

Audience #3: Making the first bookings

Looking for flights, hotels, etc.

With their destination decided, a traveller’s next move is to look at flights, hotels, rental cars and any other essentials like travel insurance. Once again, a search engine is the first place people are going to turn to.

Google has also adapted its flight search product throughout the pandemic to provide key information, such as the percentage of flights running and the percentage of hotels currently open.

Users can click through to view information about travel advisories for their destination of choice and local cases, as well as a topical search for Covid-19 in the city they’re flying into.

Google's flight planner

Google is responding to greater concern over the environmental impact of flying, too. Google Flights now shows emissions information for individual flights, comparing the typical rate of emissions for the route vs the emissions of the flight in question.

Google's flight planner showing emissions for each airline

Keep in mind that a lot of people still use platforms like Booking.com, Skyscanner and Moneysupermarket.com – and mobile apps will keep some users away from search engines.

Search results for cheap flights to Cairo

For the majority of users who still turn to Google Search at this stage of the booking process, you’ll want to create campaigns in Google Ads. Create campaigns for each location and use ad extensions to improve your chances of attracting clicks. Rating extensions make your ads stand out visually and increase user confidence in your brand while sitelink extensions allow you to make multiple offers and direct users to more specific parts of your site.

If you’re not in the flights or hotel business (or anything that fits into this early booking category), you can still introduce your brand by creating campaigns for the Display Network and targeting comparison sites, airlines and other websites people visit at this stage of the research/booking process.


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Audience #4: Secondary bookings

Looking for attractions, activities, restaurants etc. (before they travel)

Once the flights are booked, people turn their attention to planning the best holiday they can in the limited time they’ve got. During the period between booking flights and departure, travellers have time to do their research; they’re going to be looking for the ‘unmissable’ things to do in their travel destination.

Instagram makes a big comeback here as people turn to the social network for travel inspiration. Unlike audience #1, you can now target people based on the locations they’re showing interest in (Facebook and Instagram) and really wow them with what you have to offer.

Search is crucial here too so take a two-pronged approach, with PPC ads and organic content. Think about a user session that starts with ‘places to visit in Cambodia’ and develops into ‘Angkor Wat tours’ and ‘best time to visit Angkor Wat’.

Search results for weekend trips in Sydney

Aside from flights and hotel search, Google is also positioning itself as a travel planning tool. This is an important channel for tourist attractions, tours, events, restaurants and local services.

Local companies should keep their Google Business Profile (formerly Google My Business) up to date with key info, such as opening times so people can easily check that businesses are open and keep travellers informed about Covid-19 measures.

Use the new attributes introduced into Google Business Profile to show Covid-19 info, such as services in operation, safety measures, customer requirements and more. Most of these attributes are automatically translated into the user’s default language so this is a great way to deliver information to foreign-speaking travellers.

Audience #5: Travelling in your area

Looking for attractions, activities, restaurants etc. (after they arrive)

Your final travel target audience is people who are currently in your area, looking for things to see, eat and do. Mobile has empowered travellers to make buying decisions on the move, all they need to do is open up Google Maps to find the best local restaurants, attractions and photo spots.

This tells you how important it is to have a strong presence on Google Maps if you are a local service that travellers are likely to be looking out for.

Discovering places to eat/stay on Google Maps

Of course, mobile search is also going to play a key role in helping people make quick decisions. It could be a case of looking up a tour operator to see what their reviews are like on TripAdvisor, trying to find a 24/7 store or looking for the most ‘Instagrammable’ places in your area.

Search results for the '10 most Instagrammable places'

Make sure you know what people are searching for while they’re in your area because this is a key part of your SEO and PPC strategies.

People don’t take a break from social media just because they’re on holiday either – quite the opposite. Facebook and Instagram both have a targeting option that allows you to target people who are currently travelling in specific locations. Which means you can plant ideas in people’s heads about what to do the next day, where to eat later that evening and where to buy some local crafts to take back home.

For more information on how to localise your travel campaigns to your travel target audiences, check out our beginner’s guide for PPC and social media travel marketers.

Win every stage of the travel booking journey

The travel booking process is a journey in itself and people’s mindset changes a great deal along the way. Understanding how needs evolve throughout this process is crucial to a successful travel marketing campaign.

Your aim is to spark that initial travel inspiration before people even realise they want to take a trip, and to make sure everyone planning a trip in your locations knows what your brand has to offer.

Finally, by targeting people while they travel in your area, you can secure those final high-intent leads that many brands ignore.

Need help with your travel campaigns?

We have lots of experience in the travel industy and our teams are on hand ready to help right now. Contact us on 02392 830281 or send us your details and we’ll call you.

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