What the Global Travel Industry Taught Us About Email During Lockdown

How are you holding up? If you’re still impacted by lockdowns, I hope you are at home and safe. In April, I presented a webinar containing some insights, trends, and recommendations for big travel and tourism companies in Brazil, so I decided to share it with others around the globe, in hopes they might benefit from these learnings.

What we saw

COVID-19 is impacting many businesses around the world, but travel and tourism is among those hit hardest. This study by Cielo in Brazil shows the sector saw a 75.3% drop in sales between March and May 2020,compared with the same period in 2019. For March alone, the average weekly drop reached 91.7%. The upside is travel demand is projected to return, although people will likely avoid densely populated destinations, as health and safety is now a primary concern.

As travel demand changes, it’s important for companies to adapt consumers’ new travel needs and properly communicate your response to this crisis. In a report from Edelman, 65% of respondents expressed, “How well a brand responds to this crisis will have a huge impact on my likelihood to buy that brand in the future,” while 71% of those participants said, “Brands and companies that I see placing their profits before people during this crisis will lose my trust forever.” While people aren’t traveling frequently now, they will think about this period of time when considering which companies to trust when they do travel. Which companies were proactive, genuine, and empathetic?

The Edelman Report also shows email is in the top three preferred communication channels for brands during the pandemic. This places email deliverability in the spotlight. At Validity, we’ve seen the pandemic’s impact on email content, deliverability, and subscriber engagement across the email marketing landscape, and talked about them in our State of Email Live webinar series. (Missed them? Key takeaways are available here, here, here, and here.)

The progression of COVID-19 related email data has been intriguing. We saw a big rise in recycled spam trap hits, most likely from companies communicating their pandemic responses to all customers, causing volume spikes with large segments of disengaged recipients.

We’ve also noted one in every 25 emails contained COVID-19 content, and they achieved higher inbox placement rate, better open rates, and lower complaints than non-COVID email.

What to consider when sending email during (and after) the pandemic

Even if we’re not in the thick of the pandemic response, remember the world has changed, and so have customers’ expectations about your products and services. Before hitting “send,” you should consider the following.

Volume

There are two scenarios: either companies increase volume (as they communicate their crisis responses); or volume drastically reduces as businesses adjust to the new situation.
If you are sending more, be careful! Mailbox providers don’t like sudden volume increases, and good sender reputation is vital to achieve higher inbox placement. Here are some pointers:

  • Spread it out! If you are planning on doubling email volume, consider spreading the increase over several days to reduce the impact.
  • Start with the best. Use the date of last open or click to identify your most engaged subscribers and prioritize sending to them first.
  • Consider other data sources. Use information such as website logins, purchase history, or even customer support data to provide alternative signals of activity.
  • Clean your list. Avoid harming your sender reputation by sending to long-term inactive by verifying your addresses prior to deployment. To help, Validity is offering 5,000 free credits–check out Strength at Validity to learn more.

Sending less emails can also impact sender reputation. To avoid long term damage, follow these pointers:

  • Don’t just stop. Instead, try to at least maintain a “heartbeat” to keep your IPs warm. This also allows you to continue scrubbing old addresses when they lapse.
  • Slowly return to the mix. Don’t just assume it’s “as you were” as soon as you’re ready to start emailing again. Prepare a strategy to slowly ramp your volume back up to pre-COVID-19 levels.
  • Turn it into an opportunity. This is a really good time to review your email strategy, your creative, refresh current customer journeys, and think about new triggered opportunities.

If your email volume is changing (in either direction), it is more important than ever to monitor deliverability and reputation. Keep these points in mind:

  • Maintain a minimal level of complaints
  • Sending to unknown users can happen, but it shouldn’t be more than 3% of your sending volume.
  • Sending to spam traps can harm your reputation, so be careful when trying to raise the dead (email addresses, that is!).

Content

While some travel companies are experimenting with different approaches to content, others are acting like nothing is happening.
A big change is a reduced focus on promotions, changing the tone to bring reassurance to customers during these difficult times. Consider these tactics used by the travel and tourism industry:

  • Communicate your response to the crisis, changes in business practices, and how customers can request assistance.
  • Be empathetic – Customers had to change their travel plans, so provide alternatives to cancelations if possible.
  • Provide value – Remind customers how important they are. Offer things they might appreciate for their next travel, such as free upgrades, free checked bags, and free seat assignment.
  • Make it personal – Use information such as name, city of residence, and frequent travel destinations, to personalize subject and content.
  • Offers for future dates – Hopefully next year, normalcy resumes
  • Virtual holidays – Encourage a holiday from your sofa with interactive travel experiences, to will help keep the desire to travel nice and fresh.
  • Crowdsource – Get customers to share their favorite travel stories, and use them to create content.

While things are slowly returning to levels we recognize, nothing will ever feel like the pre-COVID-19 “normal” again. It’s ok to start over. Using these tips, you can try to spark some life back into your emails even if your industry is struggling. We’re here to support you as you use email to keep conversations alive with your customers. Just reach out if you need help.

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