Holiday Travel: How to Stand Out During the Craziest Time of the Year

Mallory Diamond, Associate Director, Marketing & Biz Dev
November 12, 2018

My family has never once traveled during the holidays.

Every year, Thanksgivings are spent at my parents' house, or a mere mile down the road at my aunt and uncle's. We munch on M&MS® while watching football, wine glasses in hand, and later, we hunker over a spread of carved turkey (Butterball®, of course), canned cranberry sauce, and mom's sweet potato casserole with marshmallow. Christmas has a similar vibe: we're all about warm socks, plenty of snacks, and hanging at the homestead.

But for millions of Americans, holiday travel is a yearly tradition — whether visiting family across the country, or traveling the same long distances to avoid said family. (Among this year's top 10 holiday travel destinations: Punta Cana, Honolulu, and Miami.)

According to a recent report from AAA, an estimated 54.3 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more away from home on Turkey Day, an increase of 4.8% versus last year. We should see the highest Thanksgiving travel volume in more than a dozen years, with 2.5 million more of us hitting the road (or air, or rails, or waters) in 2018.

Unfortunately, traveling during the holidays is a tradition that carries its fair share of miserable baggage (pun fully intended).

Congested Craziness:

The same AAA report references a study from INRIX that predicts travel times in our most congested cities — especially San Francisco, NYC, and Boston, those lucky ducks — could be as much as four times longer than a normal trip. Yikes.

Wallet Woes:

According to a NerdWallet study, 49% finance their trips with credit cards. Holiday travelers will charge roughly $135.8 billion in total, or $1,456 per person — and then take months to pay it off. MarketWatch reports that the average American household spends nearly 40% of their vacation funds on travel alone.

Angsty Anticipation:

Finally, there's the anxiety and exhaustion associated with holiday travel. A Crimson Hexagon analysis of online consumer sentiment reveals, unsurprisingly, that consumers are most annoyed by other people during travel and are particularly rankled when travel brands fail to compensate for a poor or incomplete experience.

All of these factors represent a huge spike in consumer sensitivity. If you're in the travel or OTA space, it's a time of year when you can be the holiday hero by going the extra mile, or just as easily be lambasted as a Scrooge with practices that don't put your customers first.

Here's how to make sure you're standing out (in a good way) during this critical period:

  • Inspire with experiences, not just services: Direct suppliers and competitors, like Airbnb, are emphasizing their value in connecting travelers to experiences. Most booking providers are lagging in this area, but there's clear appetite for the extras: a June 2018 Mintel report showed travelers want OTAs to do better at sharing attractions at the destination (65%) and nearby the destination (52%), but fewer than one in five actually book experiences through the provider.
  • Make sure your social squad is on point: Consumers now routinely reach out to travel brands and OTAs on social media to ask questions, flag issues, and make requests. Invest extra in making sure your community managers are ready to respond to your customers thoughtfully and helpfully. The positive word of mouth and goodwill you earn will be worth the expense. For bonus points, offer a little boost to stressed out customers who aren't directly reaching out to your brand, but may be voicing their frustrations in related social posts.
  • Stand up to stand out: It's tough for booking providers to stand out from the crowd, even with strong name recognition. A unique value proposition is the best offense, and the holidays are the perfect time to amplify this. Whether you offer the best concierge services, most convenient logistical tools, or most luxurious travel perks, find a creative way to make it known during the holiday season.

If you've got the great holiday migration on the brain, consider getting in touch. Whether you need help with customer acquisition and retention, or simply standing apart from competitors at a peak time, our travel team is ready to hit the road with you.

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About the author
Mallory Diamond, Associate Director, Marketing & Biz Dev
Mallory is a core leader of our growth and communications team, with a focus on brand strategy, content marketing and new client relationships. She is also experienced in social media/PR strategy and campaign development, with work recognized by the Effie Awards.