As travel makes a comeback, here's what advertisers must keep in mind

As Covid restrictions lift around the world and travel resumes, marketers in the hospitality and travel spaces would do well to consider the evolving landscape of media buying and the challenges of fraud and quality control, writes DoubleVerify’s executive vice president, global chief commercial officer Julie Eddleman.

The disruption caused by Covid-19 last year forced many brands to shift priorities and either cut back or pause a large percentage of their digital media buys. This was especially true in the hospitality and travel sectors, where US digital travel sales declined by an estimated 45%.

With the pace of Covid-19 vaccination increasing, many consumers are expressing interest in traveling and attending live events. With the possibility of recovery on the horizon, many advertisers in the travel and hospitality industry are ramping up their media campaigns to capture the attention of travelers planning global and regional vacations.

Before travel advertisers prepare campaigns for takeoff, however, a safety check is in order — because a lot has changed in a year. Here’s what marketers in the space should be thinking about today.

1. Shifts in the buying environment

Travel and hospitality advertisers are increasingly buying programmatically.

According to our own client data, other industries have delivered roughly 86% of their inventory programmatically and 14% via publisher direct buys over the past two years. But this is not the case for travel and hospitality advertisers, whose programmatic impression share has shifted from 60% to 90% during the same period. Although this trend toward programmatic buying for travel and hospitality advertisers began in 2019, it became significantly more pronounced in 2020 and into early 2021.

This change means travel and hospitality advertisers will want to consider how programmatic and publisher direct buys may differ. Programmatic is great for driving performance and scale, but there can be media quality concerns, increasing the need for independent auditing and third-party verification.

CTV is booming.

CTV views increased by 160% in Q2 of 2020 compared to Q2 of 2019. The increase was even greater in North America specifically, which saw a staggering 548% increase in viewership. Combine this with the fact that roughly half of all consumers report spending more time on CTV devices, and it becomes clear the demand for CTV is skyrocketing.

Travel marketers will want to invest accordingly in this premium and emerging channel, shifting linear TV budgets over to meet consumers where they are — and where they are increasingly headed.

Consumer privacy concerns are paramount.

Privacy concerns are not new, but over the past year, increased privacy regulations and cookie deprecation have grabbed headlines.

In July of 2020, California began enforcing the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). Although CCPA is not as restrictive as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) — Europe’s comprehensive consumer data privacy policy framework — it enables users to know if personal data is being collected about them, what that data is and if it’s being sold.

Meanwhile, Chrome, Safari and Firefox have all strengthened consumer privacy protections by limiting the amount of data that advertisers can collect. Google will phase out all third-party cookies by 2023, while recent Apple operating system updates allow users to opt out of allowing companies to track their web behavior by blocking the Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA) at the app level.

As a result, many advertisers are reconsidering contextual targeting as a way to drive performance without relying on third-party cookies. Contextual targeting has changed since the early days of the Internet. With today’s more modern semantic science technology, contextual targeting goes beyond keyword analysis, allowing advertisers to reach audiences that are highly relevant to their specific messaging and standards.

2. The state of quality

Fraudsters have gotten even more creative — especially on emerging channels like CTV.

While fraud remains a challenge across the digital ecosystem, several major CTV fraud schemes grabbed headlines in 2021.

Ensuring premium placements and working directly with trustworthy publishers is a critical part of the equation, but this doesn’t guarantee comprehensive protection and may limit scale. Advertisers should be sure to work with an objective third party to help evaluate, detect and eliminate all manner of fraud within their media buys. It is also important to protect media buys throughout the transaction — both pre-bid, if buying programmatically, and post-bid. This can help ensure full coverage and significantly reduce the impact of fraud on media investments.

Viewability is improving and user attention is becoming a bigger focus.

Our own data confirms that viewability is improving — though not at the same rate across all verticals. With advertisers able to confirm that their ads have the opportunity to be seen — the first step in making sure a message reaches its target audience — the industry is talking about the next step beyond viewability: user attention.

Today, viewability is a baseline expectation in advertising. Advertisers who want to take a step beyond viewability can now look at user attention metrics to help gauge performance. Examples include ad engagement — how a user interacts with an ad —and ad exposure -—how the ad is displayed on the page.

A fast-evolving news cycle has transformed how brands address brand safety and suitability.

Brand safety and suitability has transformed in the last year, and navigating unsafe and unsuitable content online can be a minefield for global advertisers. From inflammatory rhetoric to conspiracy theories and fake news, the dynamic and unpredictable nature of content has shifted the way advertisers approach media buys.

Taking a nuanced approach to brand safety helps advertisers maintain brand equity without potentially missing opportunities to connect with their audiences.

Implementing best practices with a brand suitability profile and leveraging brand safety tools — such as inclusion and exclusion lists, semantic category avoidance, custom brand categories, keyword lists and exceptions — gives advertisers a competitive advantage that allows for scale and protection while eliminating spend on blocked impressions that create no value for the advertiser.

As we look ahead to a brighter future where travel and entertainment are once again commonplace, it’s important to take proper safety precautions. Just as all travelers will expect higher standards to ensure their wellbeing, digital advertisers will want to ensure the quality and standards of their marketing outreach.

Preparing to face the challenges of fraud, data privacy changes, viewability and brand safety will ensure that travel and hospitality advertisers — as well as their audiences — have a smooth flight ahead.

Julie Eddleman is executive vice president, global chief commercial officer at DoubleVerify.