Catching the Travel Bug: How Expedia Dominates Travel Marketing—Even In Lockdown

What's a travel company to do when a worldwide pandemic halts flights and vacations? Adapt. Here’s what marketers can learn from how Expedia pivoted when the world—and the travel industry—was in lockdown.


Let’s play a game of word association. I say travel and what appears on the tip of your tongue? Beach? Sun? Cocktail? Over the last few decades, arguably all of these answers have been swept aside in a travel marketing hurricane: by Expedia.

Founded as a division of Microsoft in 1996, Expedia now lords over online travel marketing like a passive-aggressive Delta flight attendant. Whether you’re looking for a hotel, a hire car, a flight—or just some good old travel inspiration—the Seattle firm can prod you in the right direction.

That’s even true—counterintuitively—during the chaos of pandemic. Airports may be closed and airplanes grounded, but by tweaking its branding and emphasizing less time-consuming journeys, Expedia has seen its reputation soar—and offered up plenty of travel marketing lessons in the process.

Switching Up the Travel Marketing Routine

In a world of lockdowns and travel bans, you might imagine an enterprise like Expedia would be as stuck as its customers. Instead, it’s been busy adapting, seducing a new audience of local travelers. 

That begins with its branding language. Conscious that many travelers are now housebound (or, if you’re like me, bathbound) Expedia’s travel marketing is now encouraging customers to “switch up” their routine—if only for a few days. 

Rather than promoting extravagant vacations in Tahiti or the Maldives, Expedia’s travel marketing now uses your internet location to suggest nearby adventures. From my corner of Queens, for instance, I’m offered trips to Philadelphia and Atlantic City. 

Like countless other companies, Expedia bolsters all this with more flexible booking policies. But uniquely, Expedia burrows this message into its brand language, earnestly asking if “COVID-19 has affected your travel plans” and sharing an FAQ on how customers can rebook.

The point of this all is to make last-minute changes as simple as possible for panicked customers, something Expedia achieves by offering clear instructions (complete with pictures!) on exactly which steps frustrated passengers should follow. Combined with additional tips on canceling hotels and rental cars, Expedia makes the stress of rescheduling as minimal as possible.

Naturally, all this provides powerful lessons for travel marketers—even those in other industries. With the world in chaos, making life a little easier for your customers is a great way of gaining their trust, even if your shtick is just for homebodies. 

MarketSmiths Case Study

One of the sexiest hotel firms around, Wyndham Hotel Group (WHG) was making major moves, from performing a detailed brand survey to acquiring another hotel brand. But to really succeed, these projects needed sparkling copy. Not easy any time, especially given WHG’s tight deadlines and vigorous fact-checking. But after tapping MarketSmiths, we took all this in our stride, polishing off page after page of copy ahead of schedule—and rich with detail to boot. Even better, we delivered timely insights into WHG’s mobile landscape, equipping their team with crucial background to reinvent their UX/UI. No wonder the group’s since gone on to even more remarkable things, cementing its place as one of the best hospitality firms around.

> Read the full case study here

Swapping Work From Home for Work From Here

It’s one thing to get people to swoop in and book a holiday in the midst of a global pandemic. It’s another to keep them coming back. But Expedia manages the trip—in part by dispensing with vacations altogether.

Conscious that working from home is the new matcha latte for millennials everywhere, the firm is encouraging travelers to do the 9-5 from abroad. Promising to “transform vacation daydreams” into “office realities,” its ‘Welcome to Work From Here (WFH)’ YouTube campaign features upbeat videos of contented hipsters wandering free, Macbook Pros in hand.

At the same time, Expedia promises to be a savior for colleagues actually working in travel. Travel marketing may be struggling, but Expedia’s Recovery Marketing Resource Center is here to help, with webinars, events, and blogs for travel agents to explore. 

Even better, the company has spent $275 million to help out competitors, positioning itself as the messiah of the industry it helped build. The lessons here aren’t limited to hotel chains or travel insurers, though. Whether you’re in tech or hospitality, showing you care about more than the bottom line is always a good marketing tactic.

Learn why the best return on your marketing dollar comes from copywriting.

“Merely Adapting” To the Times

Dovetailing flexibility and empathy has served Expedia well. Despite a few scary moments (lockdown temporarily caused its share price to tumble), the company sees brighter times ahead. 

As Expedia Group CEO Peter Kern put it last year: “We are merely adapting to it as it comes and try to be smart about where the business is and help the business along.”

Wise advice—and not just for Expedia’s fellows in the world of travel. Whatever your focus, there’s always space to adapt your tone, especially if you’re helping out fellow marketers along the way.

Want copy that takes your readers to sunnier climes? The jetsetters at MarketSmiths are here to check you in to the writing vacation of your dreams.

Andrea Valentino

Andrea Valentino

Andrea is originally from London, and came to New York after a stint in journalism. He loves everything to do with writing—as well as obscure language facts, decent wine, and chocolate cake.

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