How Skyscanner is helping people navigate ‘the stages of grief’ during coronavirus

As the travel industry faces a crisis amid closed borders and grounded flights, Skyscanner is using its marketing to offer people hope and build trust in the brand.

With borders closing, flights grounded and calls for government bail outs, the travel industry is one of the industries facing the biggest impact from the Covid-19 pandemic. Yet despite the difficulties, travel search engine Skyscanner believes that travel brands can play a key role during the crisis, specifically in helping people grieve.

Its global brand director, Jo McClintock, explains: “Most of the stages we are going through are quite aligned to the grief model and grieving for what once was. It leads to a bit of brain fog, asking ‘when is normal coming back? Is it ever coming back?’

“We believe we have a duty of care to our consumers to be there. In this case, it’s [providing] advice, peace of mind and empathy.”

There are a myriad of reactions to the travel shutdown. Some people may be concerned about loved ones stuck abroad, while others may be mourning cancelled holidays or trips to see family and friends.

Skyscanner wants to stick by people, providing hope and information as  they work through these feelings.

Part of its work here is the launch of a social media campaign, ‘#WeWill’, that asks people to share their stories of where they will go and who they will visit once the pandemic is over.

The campaign is based on a global consumer survey, carried out across 16 markets, that looked at both the psychological and behavioural impact of the pandemic and how that has affected travel. The survey is helping Skyscnner paint a broad picture of how its consumers are feeling and how best it can respond.

One of the key findings was that 60% of Skyscanner travellers are optimistic they will be able to travel internationally later this year, of which half are very optimistic.

It’s a different type of marketing when you’re in a global crisis.

Joanna McClintock, Skyscanner

As well as providing hope, Skyscanner is also trying to provide practical, up-to-date information on travel. McClintock is mindful not to “drown consumers in data”. But it is keen to provide easily accessible information for the two types of booking activity it is seeing: very short-term for those that need to fly now and much longer term for those thinking about travel once the crisis has ended.

This combination of consumers thinking both short- and long-term means long and short-term marketing have “equal importance” for Skyscanner. While it has kept its marketing budget at broadly similar levels, it has refocused its marketing messaging on brand communications and building trust.

McClintock explains: “It’s more about upweighting ways to give people more reassurance and hope. It’s a different type of marketing when you’re in a global crisis. We know we’re doing something right and will continue serving the traveller; the metrics come second.”

Nevertheless, the metrics suggest Skyscanner is taking the right approach. The #WeWill campaign is getting more engagement on social that most of its previous activity, while it has seen the highest email open rate since it launched.

McClintock would encourage marketers to “solve not sell”, treat customers as individuals and “really lean in an listen”.

“Don’t try to push things irresponsibly and commercialise a terrible situation,” she says.

She adds: “You need to reach out and listen as a brand. It’s about treating them as an individual not as the masses. Everyone really is going through their own individual crisis. It’s less about the who and more about how we can help the whole.”