Challenges facing the travel industry in 2024

2023 saw the travel industry continue to make strides in its journey towards post-pandemic recovery with the international holiday market returning to levels seen before the initial outbreak of COVID-19.

Independent travel agent, Hays Travel recorded its strongest-ever trading year, whilst Europe’s largest travel group, Tui UK & Ireland hailed “very strong demand” for holidays over the 12 months, had led to overall revenue exceeding £20billion for the first time.

In this article, we analyse and discuss what the challenges facing the travel industry will be in 2024.

Environmental impact

After experiencing near-decimation as a result of the travel restrictions imposed during the pandemic, the international holiday market returned to pre-pandemic levels in 2023.

But while travel volume may have returned to ‘normal’, the effects of the pandemic are lasting, with many consumers having a transformed awareness of global issues affecting the planet and society. As such, sustainability – while by no means a new concept in the travel industry – is front of mind for many consumers in 2024.

Keen to return to exploring new destinations, consumers – whether budget travellers or those looking for more luxurious breaks – are increasingly thinking more mindfully about the way they travel, taking the environmental impact of how and where they travel into consideration when booking a trip.

While it could easily be perceived as another travel buzzword, brands need to realise that sustainability is more than a passing trend. Fast becoming an expectation – rather than a nice-to-have – brands who ignore the sustainability agenda entirely will automatically be on the back foot amongst their competitors, and those who don’t take it seriously enough, by implementing proper, strategic sustainable goals and policies, risk being accused of greenwashing, thereby also losing out.

Rather, by leading with transparency and prioritising communicating sustainability objectives, initiatives and credentials, as well as sustainable experiences, clearly, brands can build genuine connections with their audience and deepen trust, helping to achieve cut-through with consumers on the hunt for planet-friendly holiday choices.

Brand differentiation

If all indications are correct, 2024 will continue last year’s trajectory and outpace 2019 in travel volume. But with so many consumers looking to book a getaway, the travel industry has become an incredibly crowded space, meaning brands really need to consider what sets them apart from their competitors.

Travel trend predictions anticipate experiential travel, ‘set-jetting’, ‘cool-cationing’ and regenerative tourism – amongst other things – to be the next big things in 2024. And while it is certainly important to pay attention to these trends, it is equally critical to consider whether they are something your brand can get involved with authentically.

If you haven’t already done so, now is the time to really nail down your USPs. Instead of trying to achieve mass appeal, consider what makes your brand stand out. To establish your niche, decide what your key selling points are and focus your travel PR strategy on that. Remember, it’s better to do one thing well than try to do it all.

To pique the interest of consumers and make a lasting impact, consider implementing a creative comms strategy that uses storytelling to highlight your USPs, whether that be highlighting the unusual destinations you offer, sharing behind-the-scenes content about exclusive experiences that align with the latest trends, or sharing tips and tricks to help consumers get the best deals for their next break.

Maintaining online reputation

Individuals and businesses ignore negative online sentiment at their peril.

When a customer searches for your business, the first page of Google should reflect how you wish to be perceived as a brand. Which is why online reputation management should not be focussed on only in times of crisis.

Nowadays, reputation is currency and a company’s digital footprint plays a massive role in this.

People want to travel with those they trust and when you’re competing against travel companies and providers, the difference can come down to one negative review or which page of Google you appear on.

Those are all things a travel PR and digital strategy can handle. A curated media strategy built on testimonials and reviews can help to boost rankings in search engines. And for when disruptions, cancellations or accidents do occur, a crisis communications plan can help in maintaining online reputation whilst ensuring customer trust isn’t affected – meaning your brand doesn’t take a nosedive.

Geopolitical issues

Last year, a report from Euromonitor identified geopolitical volatility as one of the biggest risks to travel sector growth over the next two years.

Geopolitical issues can trigger social unrest and concern, which in turn can have a significant negative effect on tourism – meaning jobs, local communities and wider economic growth are all at risk.

Therefore, getting a handle on what this means for your company is key and secondly, the communication around this.

The pandemic, although not a geopolitical issue, serves as a prime example of what the travel industry should not do when faced with an unprecedented risk in the future. This includes delays in refunds, uncertainty around flights and departures and a lack of communication with travellers on restrictions, testing requirements and more.

If a geopolitical incident does occur, an effective communication strategy will ensure that refund and cancellation policies are clear and that customers feel assured about their travel plans. It’s also important to maintain strong relationships with tourism boards in those impacted countries, for when the time is right, to re-commence travel.

Customer retention

There are two big crises at the front of people’s minds right now – the cost of living and the climate – both of which are playing a part in making it more difficult than ever for brands to retain customers.

While in the past customers may have been loyal to brands that they had travelled with previously – whether that be airlines, hotels or excursion providers – customers are increasingly savvy, instead opting to shop around for the deals that tick most of their boxes and align with their personal values.

As such, acknowledging the shift in consumer priorities and finding the balance between cost and conscience is key for brands, if they are to retain customers who are looking to book holidays and travel experiences in 2024 and thrive in the long-term.

Equally, in today’s highly competitive travel industry, customer service and personalisation are key to retaining customers. Offerings including tailored recommendations, personalised offers and loyalty schemes are increasingly expected by holiday-makers, and proven to encourage repeat bookings.

By implementing these customer retention strategies and communicating them creatively to consumers as part of a clear PR and social media campaign plan, travel brands can increase customer satisfaction and foster a sense of loyalty and connection to the brand, encouraging customers to stick with them for a while longer.

If you’d be interested in discussing your travel PR strategy for 2024, why not get in touch with our expert team today.

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