What The Return of The Road Trip Means For Your Business

Family packing up car for a road trip

Great views. Good music. Beautiful scenery. Pandemic restrictions continue to inspire new habits among consumers and reawaken old ones, such as road trips.

Described by The New York Times as a rite of cultural passage, road trips have always been a part of American history. But the age-long activity is coming back in style, largely driven by health safety concerns.

New research shows that more people prefer to have vacations closer to home because of safety concerns. According to a survey by Skift, 40% of Americans say their first post-COVID trip will be by car, within 100 miles of home.

While no one wants to be stranded abroad, people still crave the thrill of vacations and are turning to the road to cure their travel bug. Here’s how you can leverage this trend to open up new opportunities for your business.

The return of the road trip: What does it mean for retail and food businesses?

While the 1950s road trips were made possible by manual family cars and paper maps, today’s tourers are more tech-driven. Vacationers are renting RVs, buying top-of-the-line camping gadgets, and choosing routes and destinations on their smartphones.

Businesses located along travel routes will be big beneficiaries, as well as restaurants and retail stores that sell relevant road trip items.

For example, Traegar, a manufacturer of Wi-Fi-enabled grills, was rightly apprehensive about how the pandemic would affect the sales of their non-essential product. Surprisingly, however, sales of its camping grills increased as more consumers hit the road for adventure. In fact, half of their most portable grills were sold out according to this Adweek feature. Similar stories have been shared by businesses whose products and services meet the needs of road travelers.

What’s more exciting is that consumers are interested in patronizing local businesses, even when they offer products outside of the usual. Square’s Future of Commerce report shows that 59% of consumers are likely to buy items from stores and restaurants that aren’t a part of their main offering.

The bottom line is that new or re-emerging consumer trends present opportunities for businesses to boost sales. The reemergence of road trips is no different.

Ways to key into the new trend

Trace the routes

Identify road stops, hotels, and locations close to your business that will interest road travelers. Partner with concierges and local tourist organizations so you stay up to date on the latest happenings and get featured in their marketing or promotional materials.

For example, OpenTable, one of the world’s leading providers of online reservations, partnered with local restaurants to create a road-trip-themed campaign. The visually appealing campaign flyer traces popular trip routes and recommends great stops for hungry travelers.

Getting involved in similar campaigns can help get more eyeballs on your business listings, translating into more sales opportunities.

Build an online presence — be visible to searchers

For many travelers, the trip starts online, with road travelers searching for the best stops to make and local businesses to patronize on their journey. 

Make sure your business can be found when those searches happen. This means having up-to-date business listings on the major online directories, from Yelp to Google My Business, and actively manage your online reputation by responding to both positive and negative reviews.

Invest in an eCommerce website that highlights your major offerings, gives a background of your business, and is optimized for local searches. With an Online Store you can receive payments online, take orders, and offer curbside pickup or delivery. You can also post positive customer reviews on your site and connect to your social media pages, like Instagram, for even more credibility.

Create holiday-tailored messages and packages

In addition to having an online presence, make it clear that your business is prepared to entertain tourists. When it comes to road trips, it’s all about the experience. Vacationers are interested in gathering souvenirs, trying local food, and creating memories of their trip. Lean into the road trip experience and create helpful travel guides and resources that whet their appetite.

For an online or brick-and-mortar retail store, this could mean creating a list of souvenir-worthy items and explaining their local relevance. For a restaurant, this could be an experience-themed menu guide that takes visitors through the local favorites. Your website and social media pages should include messages that resonate with road-travel lovers and nudge them to visit.

For packages, you can explore prepared meal boxes that travelers can order online on their way to your restaurant to pick up, or create curated sections in your retail store with all the road trip essentials.

Be prepared for online ordering

Online ordering is a big part of the trip. Implementing technology that allows you to take and process online orders without glitches is crucial. A seamless customer experience — from online ordering to pickup — will ensure your business continues to get good reviews that encourage travelers to stop by.

Even customers who do not order online may want to be certain you have the items they are interested in before they visit. This is why setting up a smooth omnichannel experience is so important. For a retail store, this means providing accurate information about your inventory and ensuring the information is up to date at all times. Nearly three-quarters of retailers (74%) plan to use real-time inventory technology. 

For customers looking to make a quick stop and continue on their way, consider self-serve ordering that allows them to scan QR codes from a walkup window, parking spot, or other location to order and pay from their own device.

Create experiences and promotions that attract tourists

Businesses can also get proactive by creating experiences and promotions that inspire people to take a road trip along their route.

Partner with relevant travel organizations and host road-trip-inspired events and experiences, similar to the OpenTable campaign. While you’re at it, pack in irresistible promotions that bait tourists. 

Many restaurants already plan to offer curbside pickup for takeout (66%) and drive-in dining where customers park on site and eat in their cars (48%), all of which are perfect for travelers. 

Get involved in the community

Recommendations from family and friends are the number-one factor influencing travel destination choices. A healthy local presence is important if you wish to stay top of mind and on the lips of future referrers.

Half of surveyed shoppers and consumers want to see businesses supporting community organizations, according to the Future of Commerce report.

Step up your community engagement efforts by participating in some of the activities that consumers want to see, such as sourcing locally or supporting minority-owned businesses. In return, you’re likely to get more goodwill and mentions from locals to tourists.

Summing it up

Road trips are the new normal for experience-hungry travelers keen to escape from months-long lockdowns. Prepare your business for the vacation enthusiasts by having a vibrant online presence, omnichannel eCommerce support, and by partnering with relevant tourist organizations to create events and experiences that attract tourists. As consumers pick new habits and reawaken old ones, your business should be on the lookout for ways to key into relevant trends and boost revenue.