Feature

Sky's the limit as travel brands create top-flight experiences

Airlines from easyJet to Air Canada are ditching holiday clichés and giving prospective travellers a taste of their services with fine-dining menus, fun cafés, virtual cabins and sports-themed lounges.

EasyJet's Cafe van der Sprinkles
EasyJet's Cafe van der Sprinkles

It’s a given that keen travellers often crave new and thrilling encounters or the chance to take part in experiences that transport them away from their everyday lives. It’s no surprise, then, that travel brands are investing increasingly in experiential marketing to make an emotional connection with consumers. Airlines, in particular, have been ramping up their brand activations this year, with the likes of American Airlines, easyJet and Air Canada all getting in on the act.

According to Harley Ilott, advertising manager across EMEA at American Airlines, travelling is all about the experience and not just a means of getting from A to B. "For this reason, we are increasingly focusing on experiential activations," he says.

"Unlike traditional media, these campaigns allow prospective customers to have a tangible experience of flying American by meeting our crew, sampling our onboard food and wine and experiencing some of the top brands we offer in-flight, such as Casper bedding and C.O. Bigelow cosmetics."

The brand has hosted events across the UK. In Manchester earlier this year it partnered Harvey Nichols to promote new daily flights from Manchester airport. There were a number of in-store events, such as a wine-themed journey around the US and a three-course dinner inspired by the American Airlines "flagship business" in-flight dining experience.

Later in the year, the airline targeted Londoners in Canary Wharf with a sports-themed lounge (pictured below), working with Exterion Live.

"When booking flights and hotels, consumers face a huge choice of services, brands and buying platforms that are all easily accessible," Nick Tether, head of experiential at Exterion Live, says. "Travel brands are clearly aware of this so the aim is to drive advocacy and engage with customers on a deeper level."

He adds that if a brand is trying to sell its service – which, in the travel sector, is ultimately an experience – it must convince customers to trust it. Travel companies must, therefore, create engaging and memorable experiences that instil faith in their brands.

"The art of storytelling, coupled with a memorable experience that can captivate a potential customer, is the magic ingredient that makes a major impact on purchase decisions," Tether explains.

For a low-cost carrier such as easyJet, activations offer an opportunity to provide travel inspiration in a distinctive and original way while enabling the brand to create social content that stands out.

The airline has worked with agency VCCP and the Netherlands Board of Tourism and Conventions on two activations. The first, staged last year, took people on a whistle-stop tour through a European city with a cast of live actors. This year, easyJet used food as a way to draw people in by creating a pop-up café in October offering sprinkles on bread, a popular Dutch breakfast dish (pictured below).

James Millet, director of marketing, digital and brand at easyJet, says the philosophy behind the airline’s activations is to bring a fresh perspective to a destination that tends to have rather well worn associations.

He adds: "One of the reasons [why travel brands are activating] is simply that the travel category is awash with lookalike campaigns featuring clichéd holiday imagery. There’s only so much of this consumers can take, whether it’s out of home or on their social feeds, before it all blends into one amorphous blancmange."

One brand that has used Instagram to its benefit is VisitScotland, which helped people make a holiday out of posts they liked on the social media site. VisitScotland says the project was inspired by the way that online followers use the tourism agency’s social media feeds to inspire and inform their research when planning a trip.

Virtual reality is another tool that travel brands are using to show off what they have to offer in the air. Air Canada’s global VR-themed activation (pictured below) simulated flying on its Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

Andrew Shibata, Air Canada managing director, brand, says the technology is helping the airline create an emotional engagement with consumers by differentiating the Air Canada experience from that of its competitors.

"VR can provide different layers of experience – the emotion of flying and the physical space of the cabin. It can attract potential customers by showing off aircraft amenities and a global route network in an innovative way while conveying a sense of the onboard hospitality," he adds.

With travel companies increasingly operating as lifestyle brands and consumers looking to buy into the overall experience, investing in experiential marketing is proving to be a rewarding move for the sector.