Brand-Building Lessons from Holiday Companies Flying High

February 19, 2018

We’re in the deepest depths of February, and we could all do with some sun. With half term finishing up and summer on the horizon, it’s a great time to think about booking a holiday.

At least this is the message that holiday providers are spreading, with their cheery sun-soaked ads. And with great financial success, too. In 2016, the global holiday industry contributed over $7 trillion to GDP. So what are the best of the UK’s travel brands getting so right?

TUI: A rebrand is always an option

Just last year, Thomson was arguably the best-known holiday brand in the UK. And with just one (admittedly enormous) marketing campaign, Thomson has been washed away leaving the shiny new TUI brand on the shore.

In the minds of UK consumers, TUI didn’t exist two years ago. And now it’s the most recalled brand in the whole industry: quite a coup. So what did they do that worked so well?

They prioritised continuity. A rebrand should be thought of as a fresh lick of paint rather than a complete overhaul. If there are aspects of your brand that ain’t broke, don’t fix ‘em.

The colours—ketchup red on sky blue—have stayed with the company. And TUI are keen to emphasise this: the red TUI logo was visible for the entire duration of their television ad, often on top of blue sky. 

Colour has been proven to increase brand recognition by 80% and it was the very first thing mentioned in our recent brand style guide. So even without the added recognition of the smile shape, the new is already reminding us of the old, and bringing consumers on board the re-brand simultaneously.

While the Thomson logo was allowed to persist, the brand name—a household bastion of travel—was not. Never mind that Thomson was well-established, it was also easy to say. TUI, on the other hand, is linguistically liable to cause confusion.

Sure, it starts with a T, it has two syllables. So far, so good. But that’s where its similarities to simple ‘Thomson’ end. T-U-I. Is it an acronym? Is it capitalised? Is it even English? It’s phonetically unfamiliar: is it a hard ‘t’ sound, as in too-ee; or a ‘ch’, as in ‘chewy’?

But in the midst of this potential branding calamity, TUI (in fact a German acronym—Touristik Union International—and pronounced ‘Too-ee’, by the way) did something remarkable. They made it memorable despite its inherent evasiveness.

The word itself may be taking its time to lodge in the minds of British consumers, but the strapline of the ad campaign really stuck: “We cross the 'T's, dot the 'I's and put 'U' in the middle”. 

This memorable slogan literally spells their difficult-to-recall brand name. It’s a genius move. Mailchimp’s epic launch campaign played on the fun of having a confusing name, and transformed it into a major positive. As long as you embrace the tricky bits of your new brand, level with your consumer, and spell the rebrand out for them, it can be turned into a plus.

In short, the rebrand campaign was wildly successful in terms of exposure (it was projected to reach 63% of the UK adult population, and they topped our table for unprompted brand recall).

There are a few cautionary lessons to be taken from the TUI rebrand. Despite the inescapable all-singing-all-dancing ad creating wide exposure, we found that knowledge of the brand did not translate to purchase intent. Though 28.8% of all people asked named the holiday-provider first, only 32% of this group said they would be likely to buy from TUI.

This disconnect is perhaps explained by the fact that the qualities most favourably associated with travel brands are reliability and trustworthiness. These are attributes that come with time. It’s hard to be trusted when you’ve only just arrived on the scene.

You can’t be reliable if it’s a first experience. It’s the main downside of a rebrand: reputation must be rebuilt from the bottom up. But if TUI can stay the course, they’re on track to pick up where Thomson left further, and then some.

Be well-known and well-liked

Haven holidays (a budget provider of UK caravan and camping holidays) cleaned up in the Net Promoter Score (NPS) category.

Unlike TUI, they have age on their side. Founded in 1964, their simple formula for family holidays is tried and tested. Consequently, it’s no surprise that in an industry where trust is so important, they’re so highly-rated.

Their marketing strategy takes advantage of this. Their recent promo, like TUI’s, taps into the holiday industry’s current craze for musical adverts.

Two children, ride around on a bike without helmets, and without parents. In this day and age, it’s an unusual sight. Like the strapline, it’s a breath of fresh air. Haven presents itself as a place trusted enough, and safe enough, that this madcap sort of behaviour can take place. It speaks to children: come and play where your parents don’t have to hold you hand every second of the day. And it speaks to parents: let Haven take the worrying off your hands.

Other aspects of their marketing strategy is more overtly generationally-inclusive. Tripadvisor reviews boast of discount vouchers appearing in local newspapers; their photo campaigns almost always include children and parents, and sometimes grandparents too; and their tagline, ‘Britain’s favourite seaside holiday’, nostalgically harks back to a pre-easyJet world.

 A caravan holiday is not necessarily the glitziest of offers, but Haven knows this. They market themselves as reliable and accessible: anyone can come, and they’ll know exactly what they’re going to get.

Know Your Audience

Part of the reason that Haven is so keen to emphasise their reliability is because they know what all travel companies know: a holiday is a big-ticket, discretionary purchase.

Last year, Britons took an average of 1.7 holidays. Most people will make one, maybe two, annual trips a year, which means that travel brands have just one or two chances a year to fight for that money.

With the rise of budget airlines and the likes of Google flights, Skyscanner, Trivago, Expedia, and Kayak, consumers are becoming more and more demanding about price. And it’s the model that easyJet and Ryanair have built their whole strategy on.

Neither of these two budget airlines performed well in terms of likeability. easyJet managed an NPS of 21%, while Ryanair only garnered a measly 11%. It was significant, therefore, that when it came to Purchase Intent, only 5% of people said they wouldn’t consider using easyJet again, and no one said they wouldn’t go back to Ryanair.

Why, when most people didn’t have a great experience with a brand, would they use it again anyway? Because when you can fly from London to Barcelona for £29, who cares if it’s not the most enjoyable 3 hours of your life?

easyJet and Ryanair know that prices that low will trump almost any reservations travellers have about the service. And it’s knowing this about their audience that drives their marketing strategy. Look at almost any easyJet ad and you’ll notice the price tag is front and centre.


The travel industry is diverse. From all-inclusive holiday packages, to price comparison sites, to airlines, there’s a huge amount on offer for the average consumer.

It’s crucial therefore that you decide on your key message and focus on this. Whether you’re rebranding and focusing on emphasising continuity and making your new brand memorable; whether it’s dependability you’re marketing; or whether bargains are your main selling point, keep it simple.

In a market with so much choice, people need one key reason to choose you.

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