Travel Ad Spend Has (Slightly) Recovered Since the Pandemic Began

Experts predict 2019 levels won't be reached until a vaccine is found

Airplane landing with mountains in the distance
For the year, advertising in the travel industry is still down 85% compared with 2019. Pascal Meier/Unsplash

Key insights

Advertising spend in the travel industry has increased by nearly 22% since early April, when demand cratered at the onset of the pandemic.

In April, the average weekly spend for the travel industry was just $4 million. By July, that figure had more than doubled, hovering under $8.9 million. For reference, the average weekly spend in April 2019 was $43 million. That year, the industry spent roughly $850 million in Q2.

Although nowhere near levels comparable to the highs of 2019, the last week of July saw travel industry spend down only 71% year over year, according to MediaRadar. In April, that figure was over 90%.

For the year, advertising in the travel industry is still down 85% compared with 2019. But that hasn’t stopped some brands from encouraging leisure travel, including Southwest Airlines, which spent roughly $10 million on its new “Wanderlust” camping, according to iSpot.

“There’s a real belief among many marketers that keeping your brand in the forefront is really important. Especially in a pandemic when [demand] ebbs and flows erratically,” said Todd Krizelman, co-founder and CEO of MediaRadar. “You might not fly on a plane today, but you might in four weeks.”

Ads aimed at encouraging summer leisure travel—primarily for driving destinations—sent spend soaring in June, an improvement of roughly 2%. However, as Covid-19 cases continued to spread throughout the southern U.S., travel brands began to pull back. 


“If you go back to that time, there was a lot of really negative news in the press about all the new Covid-19 cases. We think that’s driving investment down,” said Krizelman.

Krizelman is bullish that spend won’t decline into the fall or winter, agreeing alongside most travel executives that flexible work-from-home policies during the pandemic could extend the leisure travel season.

Still, it’ll be several more months, at the very least, before the industry is anywhere near pre-Covid levels. Both Delta and United airlines executives believe it’ll be two years before there’s a sustainable recovery in the airline industry.

“It takes a vaccine to get us back to that place. At least a year and a half from now,” said Krizelman. “I think you’ll see advertising come back in force.”

@RyanBarwick Ryan is a brand reporter covering travel, mobility and sports marketing.