Travel is all about getting out there, broadening horizons and enjoying new experiences. This makes an experiential approach a natural fit for the sector. And with fierce competition among brands, with airlines, online booking sites and travel companies all competing for consumer attention, an experiential campaign can be one way to stand out.
A number of travel brands are turning to virtual reality (VR) to bring an extra edge to the experience. Neilson Active Holidays teamed up with agency MBA to create a 360-degree VR video that showcased the windsurfing facilities at its resorts, while Pulse Group worked with Emirates to create an interactive stand featuring VR headsets at this year's ITB Travel Exhibition, held in Berlin in March (pictured above). Other recent activations include Virgin Holiday's giant treehouse creation on the South Bank (pictured below).
Investment in experiential across the travel sector is increasing, according to business information company Pearlfinders. It says nearly a quarter (23.8%) of all travel companies it has interviewed so far in 2016 are seeking experiential support for upcoming projects this year.
"That's almost three times as many as we saw in the first quarter of 2015, with only the FMCG, apparel and financial sectors outspending in this area," says Mike Thorne, commercial director at Pearlfinders.
Jonathan Smith is founding partner and managing director at agency Catch Digital, which has worked on experiential campaigns for travel brands such as Thomas Cook Airlines and Virgin Atlantic. He says activations using VR with a social element of gamification are becoming popular in the sector.
"Customers seek something of worth every time," he says. "Entertainment is very much about that emotional value, but the trick is standing out in a crowded marketplace where every brand is trying to grab your attention. We as consumers enjoy disruption when we're looking for entertainment."
He adds that the likes of KLM's Flat or Not experiential campaign, Lufthansa's Bedtime Stories and Thomas Cook Airlines' Fantasy Flight activity are great examples of airlines doing something disruptive in order to get their message across and connect emotionally with their customers.
Pearlfinders' Thorne highlights two trends the business has observed when it comes to travel brands using experiential.
"The first, especially for smaller brands (in the airlines sector), is finding space for their voice amid the noise created by the likes of Emirates, Etihad or even Virgin," he says. "To combat this, brands are telling us that they are prioritising exclusivity over scale in the experiences they create."
A second trend is the dominance of affiliates such as Skyscanner and TripAdvisor. Travel brands' own online booking capabilities are improving all the time, but consumers like the price comparison model.
"When it comes to experiential spend - and ROI in particular - brands are increasingly looking for ways to drive traffic directly to their sites rather than paying to line the pockets of affiliates," says Thorne.
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