Battered by the pandemic, the travel industry is looking to better days ahead, with Super Bowl ads and consumer giveaways aimed at coaxing travelers to book long-delayed trips.
Booking.com is reviving its “Booking.yeah” campaign of 2013 in its first-ever commercial during the big game. The ad, starring actor and director Idris Elba, debuts the same day as a company vacation giveaway via social media valued at $500,000.
The Super Bowl spot is just the first of several ads that will air during Booking.com’s five-week campaign, which features a mix of 30- and 15-second commercials starring Elba.
The contest for the $500,000 in vacation travel will run from 6:30 p.m. to midnight ET on Sunday. Viewers can participate by tagging Booking.com whenever they see a destination — in the company’s commercial or any other Super Bowl ad — that they would like to visit.
Rival Expedia is also doing a contest for its reward members in its return to the Super Bowl after more than 10 years. The company will give away 19 vacations valued at $5,000 each and one grand prize valued at $25,000 in the form of Expedia rewards points.
With Covid-19 cases once again on the decline and warmer months ahead, the travel companies are seizing on the Super Bowl as an opportunity to encourage consumers to plan and book their trips now.
Truist Securities analysts said they expect that travel, particularly non-U.S. business, slowed in December with headwinds into January, but see demand as picking up in early spring, resulting in a strong 2022 overall for online travel agencies.
“You can feel there’s a tremendous amount of desire to travel right now,” said Glenn Fogel, CEO and president of Booking Holdings, the parent company of Booking.com, in an interview. “We think this is a great time to reintroduce Booking.com and bring forward this lighthearted idea of travel.”
Fogel said he expects to see travel ramp up in the coming months, with additional bookings poised to increase for the spring break, Easter holiday and summer. Prices aren’t likely to get any lower going into the summer, he added.
Fogel declined to provide any specific booking information, citing a quiet period ahead of its fourth-quarter earnings on Feb. 23. The company owns Kayak, Priceline and OpenTable.
Concerns about future Covid variants shouldn’t sway people from booking trips early, he said.
Booking.com’s ad campaign draws particular attention to its free cancellation options at most properties and customized filters to help travelers find properties that meet their needs, both of which are especially important during the pandemic, Fogel said.
Flexibility is one of the big takeaways the company hopes viewers will feel when they see the ad, he said.
“Providing flexible booking so people can absolutely feel comfortable making the booking is really important, and that is a message we’re going to be putting out over and over again in this campaign as we roll it out,” Fogel said.
When a country drops a travel restriction, people start booking trips immediately, he said, adding, consumers book properties that suit their comfort level, so an immunocompromised traveler might select a house rental over a hotel.
Regardless, the message is clear: People want to travel, he said, and “what we see is countries have their infection rates go down, their travel rates go up.”
Consumers are more willing to take risks now than previously in the pandemic, especially since omicron reportedly has less severe symptoms than earlier variants, Fogel said. And most vaccinated people feel comfortable traveling, eating indoors and staying in hotels, he added.
Booking.com’s in-house creative team collaborated with Horses & Mules, a creative consultancy in Los Angeles, to produce the ad.
Although the Super Bowl saw low viewership last year, some are predicting that the increase in sports betting will drive more people to tune in this year. The Super Bowl also remains that rare opportunity in an otherwise fragmented TV viewership to reach a large audience.