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Not a Cruel Summer: Travel Advertisers Keep Shaking Off the Pandemic Blues

Not a Cruel Summer: Travel Advertisers Keep Shaking Off the Pandemic Blues


Taylor Swift can sing “Cruel Summer” all she wants, but travel advertisers are having the time of their lives after almost three years of limited spending during the pandemic

According to MediaRadar data, more than 14k travel advertisers spent over $2.4b between January and May 2023, representing a 6% YoY increase—and that’s no surprise since more than half of Americans plan to hit the roads, seas, and sky in the coming months. 

Travel advertising graph

TV Ads Aren’t Getting As Much Love 

In Q1, spending from travel advertisers increased by 17% YoY to $1.6b, with January seeing the biggest jump at 37% YoY to $512mm. Meanwhile, February, March, and April saw 12%, 6%, and 4% YoY increases, respectively.

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Although spending dipped in May by 20% YoY, thanks to reductions from The Walt Disney Company (down by 51% in May), there’s no doubt travel advertisers are gearing up for what will be a historic season. In fact, travelers are expected to spend an average of $9k on their trips this summer, up by 6.8% from last year and 26.7% from 2021.

Despite the surge, advertisers decreased their investment in TV ads by 10% YoY to $709mm (30% of their overall ad investment). Much of that decrease came from advertisers promoting airlines (down by 71% YoY) and cruise lines (down by 27% YoY). 

Travel advertisers: Media breakdown graph

For example, Delta Air Lines decreased TV spending by 95% YoY, while Expedia and Royal Caribbean did so by 10% and 53% YoY, respectively. 

But the decline in TV doesn’t mean travel advertisers are ditching traditional formats entirely. 

Through May, spending on print ads increased by 7% YoY to more than $477mm, with much of the increase coming from Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (up by 191% YoY) and Royal Caribbean (up by 40% YoY) advertisers. 

Travel Advertisers Embrace Online Video (OLV) 

Travel advertisers reallocated some TV ad dollars to online video (OLV), increasing their investment in OLV by 18% YoY to over $573mm (24% of total ad investment). Advertisers at Airbnb, for example, increased spending on OLV by more than 385% YoY as they continue to duke it out with their contemporaries promoting hotels and other lodging alternatives. 

Airbnb campaign data

Spending from Airbnb also comes on the heels of a banner year. As pent-up travel demand drove their business, Airbnb reported its best Q4 ever despite fewer bookings on the horizon. 

According to Nicholas Cauley, an analyst at Third Bridge, pressure on household budgets led to consumers choosing more affordable accommodation. He said, “The company [Airbnb] is now facing fierce competition from rivals like and Expedia’s Vrbo, so its future looks less certain.”

Advertisers for Bookings Holding ( and Kayak) responded by increasing their investment in OLV by 270% YoY. 

On top of their investment in OLV, travel advertisers are branching out into other digital channels, including display, and newer ones like TikTok. 

According to Portrait of American Travelers, an annual survey by MMGY Global, about 34% of travelers were influenced by TikTok last year, a 10 percentage point increase from 2021. 

MMGY Global CEO Clayton Reid said, “Early decision-making is where a lot of our respondents talk about how TikTok influences their decision of where to go and where to stay.” 

That said social spending from travel advertisers fell through May.

Not All Travel Advertisers Are Lovin’ Life

Advertisers in six categories were responsible for 85% ($2b) of the spend through May: Lodging, Travel Websites, Cruise Lines, US Tourism Bureaus, Parks and Recreation, and Airlines. 

Top travel categories ad spend graph

Despite the looming travel rush this summer, some advertisers aren’t spending as much as they were during last year’s peak season. Parks & Recreation advertisers, for example, decreased spending by 15% YoY to $293mm, thanks mainly to a big decline from The Walt Disney World.

Low pre-summer crowds at the happiest place on Earth likely have something to do with this decline, but a shift in their advertising strategy is undoubtedly behind it, too. 

In early 2022, the company announced it was hiring a social media content coordinator to expand DPEP’s (Disney Parks, Experiences and Products) social media presence, especially on TikTok.

More recently, The Walt Disney Company named its first Chief Brand Officer, Asad Ayaz, to “spearhead marketing for the holistic Disney brand, including setting franchise priorities and overseeing a global consumer research and analytics unit.” That quest began with the “Disney100” campaign celebrating the company’s centennial anniversary.  

At the same time, airline advertisers reduced spending by 33% YoY, including those for American Airlines, Delta, and Southwest who decreased their investments by 31%, 80%, and 17% YoY, respectively. That said, advertisers for United increased spending by 32% YoY. 

The surprising decrease in airline advertising comes at a time when much of the industry is bullish on travel during an economic downturn. “If we’re in the middle of a recession, this is the best recession the airline industry has ever seen,” said United Chief Commercial Officer Andrew Nocella

Still, there’s no denying the industry’s operating model is changing. United Airlines’ CEO Scott Kirby said, “You can’t run your airline like it’s 2019 … the world really has changed.” 

For airline advertisers, that could mean fewer ad dollars to spend, or existing ones spent in different ways (like on TikTok). 

Travel Advertisers Look Ahead

The chance of a recession in the US is crumbling, and travel advertisers are responding accordingly. 

Through May, Lodging advertisers increased their investment by 7% YoY to over $513mm, with names like Airbnb (+82% YoY), Centerbridge Partners (+90%), and Marriott International (+25% YoY) all spending big. 

Centerbridge Partners media data

At the same time, ads for Travel Sites (+31% YoY to $458mm), Cruise Lines (+10% YoY to $360mm), and US Tourism Bureaus (+31% YoY to $305mm+) increased.

Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau data

Travel advertisers are clearly shaking off any remaining bad blood, and with consumers showing little hesitation to give up their travel plans this summer, it’s a safe bet advertisers will continue to spend. 

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