4 min readJun 23, 2021


Prepare for Takeoff: How Digital Advertisers Can Engage Stir-Crazy Travelers in 2021

While 2020 technically ended when the clock struck midnight on January 1, 2021, for many, 2020 will officially be over when they can take to the air — or the rails, or the road — and feel they can travel safely. 2020’s unprecedented $500 billion decline in travel spending meant millions of family vacations, flexcations, business trips, road trips, bucket list weekends and more suffered indefinite rainchecks. Part of the fallout was a severe reduction in digital advertising: The travel industry’s total digital ad spending dropped by a remarkable $2.26 billion, a 41% year-over-year decline.

Now, as COVID-19 vaccines inch us ever closer to herd immunity, a nation of stir-crazy social distancers want to get out. Demand for summer travel has returned to pre-pandemic heights, with a particular emphasis on domestic travel, as the U.S.’s vaccination rate continues to surge ahead of nearly every country in the world.

Travelers have returned with wide eyes and open wallets. With the return comes increased competition for digital advertisers: Insider projects travel industry digital ad spending to rise by more than $500 million this year.

To capture their share of the road-hungry, pandemic-proof masses, digital advertisers need to dig deep. Consumers have heard countless heartfelt messages about “these unprecedented times,” and they need more than vague reassurances. To create compelling, memorable content, advertisers must understand why people are traveling, how people are traveling, and what they need in order to travel confidently.


Yes, the highways and airways are jammed with people desperate to shake off pandemic malaise. But they’re not all traveling for the same reasons, to the same places, or with the same people. As you design digital advertising content, ask yourself: What does travel enable people to do in 2021 that they couldn’t do in 2020?

Data from December revealed that a majority of Americans hadn’t seen their extended family members for five months. Not all summer travel will be lost weekends in South Beach; much of it will facilitate emotional reunions with friends and loved ones.

In addition to filial pilgrimages, don’t forget about digital nomads, outdoor junkies, and rural tourists. Pinterest reports that searches related to those categories have seen significant increases compared with 2019. Consider, too, the flexcation, in which remote workers conduct business from warmer climes. Digital advertisers should review the data, examine the motives for 2021 trips, and generate content geared toward travelers’ underlying why.


While many people feel comfortable returning to airplanes, cleanliness concerns and rising prices will cause many to opt for road travel. Amplifying this is the limited availability of international travel, which has funneled most travel demand into domestic options. In the six weeks between April 1 and May 23 of this year, domestic airfare prices rose by 9%. With few international options and domestic plane tickets on the rise, many who travel this summer will do so by car.

Traveling by car limits travelers’ options. Manhattanites, for example, who might otherwise take coast-to-coast — or continent-to-continent — voyages, will set their sights upstate instead. Pinterest reported an 80% increase in rural travel topics, an 85% increase in searches related to the countryside, and a 75% increase in searches related to lake houses, all relative to 2019.

Just as their underlying motives have shifted, travelers will use different methods this year than in years past. Digital advertisers must appreciate these shifting paradigms, and design content attuned to the preferences of 2021’s — not 2019’s — travelers.


Traveling always gives rise to certain anxieties. Each mode of transportation has its own unique stressors. Regardless of the era, advertisers must always accommodate the fears that accompany leaving home and sitting among strangers.

Like all that we’ve covered in this article, anxieties in a pandemic/post-pandemic age differ from anxieties in normal times. According to data from Expedia, travelers will do more research this year to determine whether trips are safe.

As we continue to shake off the impact of living at a distance, advertisers must bend over backwards to inspire confidence in prospective travelers — this charming video from Alaska Airlines is a good reference point.

What You Can Do

All the same factors that have always made travel appealing make it all the more attractive after a year of isolation. And yet, as the pandemic affected travelers’ personal circumstances a myriad of ways, they will return to the byways with a myriad of motives, preferences, budgets, and emotions, all of which should impact digital ad messaging.

Understand the emotions that accompany a grandmother seeing her grandchildren for the first time in 18 months. Recognize that mounting airfare prices and continued financial precariousness will turn many jet-setters into road-trippers. Be sure your audience knows that their health is nonnegotiable, and that your sanitation procedures reflect that.

For help creating powerful messaging that taps into modern travel expectations, partner with LUDWIG+. We live to create valuable brands, brands tapped into the fluctuating contemporary landscape. As people dream of the world beyond their walls, we can help you paint that picture in a way that makes them feel safe and inspired.

Digital advertisers, please prepare for takeoff.




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