UPFRONT 1997: Travel

More travelers, record profits hasn’t translated into network TV ads-yet

The travel industry is seeing a heady period of record prices and profits. Hotel executives can barely contain their glee at the prospect of still another year of solid bookings. And anybody booking a flight at the last minute will reel at the quoted fare.

But that does not necessarily translate to heavy network spending. The travel industry is huge but extremely fragmented. Even hotel giants such as Marriott and Holiday Inn control less than five percent of rooms each. Not surprisingly, the most consistent network advertisers are those who target a broad audience: the major domestic airlines and car rental companies.

Television can provide a “surge” for a company seeking to remake its image. Westin’s “Who are You Sleeping With” breakthrough ads drive home the point. Similarly, Holiday Inn’s controversial transsexual ad during the Super Bowl was followed by its “maids with chainsaws” ads conveying the same message: Holiday is spending $1 billion to redo its rooms. Another brand with enough hotels to make TV worthwhile is Days Inns, which for five years has used Willard Scott as a spokesman and advertises solely on NBC’s Today show.

Partnering is probably the newest buzzword. With so much fragmentation, travel companies need someone to share the costs of TV advertising, whether it be a credit card company or an airline. Says one analyst, “With heavy partnering, you might not be able to tell who’s the advertiser-the airline, the tour operator, the hotel or the destination.”

There is also a renewed emphasis on measuring the return on advertising investment. This trend has led to an evolution from brand awareness to a strong sales mission. Even Westin’s ads, while heavily image-oriented, promote a new toll-free 800 number. Nonetheless, companies like Marriott still think occasional spots are required to preserve brand recognition.

For leisure travelers, the “entertainment bar” has been raised by the likes of Disney, Las Vegas and Universal. Travelers now want more from their vacations than they have in the past. (Perhaps an education at a place like Disney Institute.)

Even so, the growth of the travel industry means an inexorable move toward increased network use as the sheer numbers of travelers multiplies.

Cruise line operators are sailing in a similar direction. This year, for the first time, the Cruise Line International Association, an industry trade group, will run an $8 million “You Haven’t Lived Until You’ve Cruised” campaign. Spots will run for 18 months starting October 1. The goal: to lure first-time cruisers.

While the big domestic airlines are network advertisers, foreign carriers are not. British Airways, which creates some of the most memorable TV ads, uses TV sparingly. Occasionally, a strategic spot might show up during the British Open telecast or to showcase a new commercial.

In the theme park industry, the big are getting bigger. Most of the action centers around Orlando where Disney, among others, is investing heavily. In response to the competition, Disney is adding more attractions and expects to change its advertising message to highlight those additions once this year’s focus on the park’s 25th anniversary is over.

Although Disney might not spend more on TV advertising, the company will continue to buy family programming on network, syndicated and cable TV. Plans are to promote both the Disney resorts and parks as a complete Walt Disney World vacation. New campaigns will, among other things, feature Disney’s new Animal Kingdom (set to open in May, 1998), as well as the new Disney Cruise Line (debuting early next year) which will offer theme park holidays in conjunction with a cruise. (Disney is facing challenges from other national family destinations like southern California and the more family-friendly Las Vegas, as well as the growing popularity of regional theme parks.)

Theme park growth has made television crucial for attracting national markets. Anheuser-Busch Theme Parks, for example, which has nine parks, uses network TV seasonally to bring attention to new rides and other attractions. Earlier this year, a decision was made to separate advertising for Sea World and Busch Gardens venues, which had been advertised under one umbrella in past years. Management believes the parks had different appeals to different target markets. -Harvey Chipkin


* Cruise industry breaks first ads targeting first-timers

* Airlines and hotels push brand differentiation

* Business travel takes off

OVERALL: Flat spending

DARK HORSE: After Super Bowl “transsexual” ad fiasco, will Holiday Inns push “modernization” message?

Copyright ASM Communications, Inc. (1997) ALL RIGHTS RESERVED