What to know about travel giveaways during the pandemic

On a weekday in mid-June, a short email zipped into the inbox of about half a million people.

“Hope everyone is doing well!” the email exclaimed. “Travel giveaways are back!” Then it offered its recipients a chance to win a Greek vacation, including a gift card to cover airfare, a five-night hotel stay, a winery tour and several day trips.

Marketers have long used this style of sweepstakes to increase the number of subscribers on a brand’s email list. Usually, a travel giveaway is born when companies pool their resources to offer a trip to one lucky winner.

The number of American brands sponsoring travel giveaways has ebbed and flowed throughout the coronavirus pandemic, seemingly in response to the public mood and the number of active cases. But now they seem to be back. Many brands in the travel space — and adjacent industries such as outdoor retail — are planning upcoming campaigns, and a few more are still sharing trip giveaways.

For some, the fact that companies are promoting these giveaways during a pandemic might raise eyebrows, as well as questions and concerns. So when the next giveaway arrives in your inbox, should you enter the contest or delete the email? We asked a few insiders what they thought.

Entrants should check the destination and dates

California resident Michelle Rulmont recently won a giveaway sponsored by hotel booking platform Kind Traveler. The prize? A three-night trip to Lake Tahoe for her family of four.

Kind Traveler specified on the giveaway’s landing page that the winner could redeem the prize “at any time in the future,” and according to Rulmont, the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority recommended that she visit the destination after Labor Day. She’s scheduling her trip for late September.

Rulmont suggested that would-be giveaway entrants look at the trip’s dates and destination before hitting the “Enter” button, especially during the pandemic.

“Check to make sure that you have ample time to be able to enjoy it and book it,” Rulmont said. “Be able to really enjoy it. Not just go, but be able to go and have fun.”

Rulmont, who lives in Sonoma, Calif., added that her family is avoiding flying, which limits the number of giveaways she would be willing to enter.

She said she expects her hotel in Lake Tahoe to enforce social distancing measures and clean public areas thoroughly, but she also mentioned that her family is eager to take the trip.

“It’s so nice to have something to look forward to,” she said. “My kids have never jet-skied, my daughter hasn’t paddleboarded, so things like that will be a whole new experience for them.”

Brands are being more cautious about the trips they offer

Kind Traveler, the company that sponsored the Lake Tahoe giveaway, is communicating destination-specific guidelines and safety pledges with giveaway winners, according to chief executive Jessica Blotter. She also said today’s best giveaways have distant expiration dates, or no expiration dates at all, and hotel partners with clearly outlined coronavirus precautions.

Matt Guidice, co-founder of Matt’s Flights, which sends alerts on flight deals, said his company has become more selective of the travel giveaways it shares.

“I usually send four a month,” he said. “Now I’m doing one or two if it makes sense for my list.”

Guidice has established criteria to determine which giveaways he will sign onto throughout the pandemic. He is prioritizing sweepstakes that offer trips to domestic destinations (but not viral hot spots) and trips that the winner can take in 2021. According to Guidice, many companies are giving their co-sponsors additional time to share the contests and are also working with hotels so the winners can take their trips later than originally established.

Matt’s Flights is now bringing its email subscribers a wider-than-usual array of giveaways, including contests that hand out cash and electronics, but Guidice still believes it’s important to keep people dreaming of future trips.

“There are a lot of negative things going on,” he said. “I just want to give something positive for people to look forward to. I just want to get the audience excited about traveling.”

Keep as much control as possible

Utah-based infectious diseases specialist Larry Ford said individuals know their own circumstances best and can consequently put together better trips.

“The most conservative approach is to plan your trip yourself,” he said. “It takes preparation. And it takes adjustment of plans, sometimes.”

In addition to the familiar recommendations to practice social distancing, wear masks and wash hands frequently, Ford said travelers can protect themselves by asking hotels and other businesses about their cleaning procedures. He also said travelers who plan their own trips can research details that a giveaway sponsor might not think of, such as where to buy food and take bathroom breaks.

In fact, Ford said, one of the greatest potential dangers in entering a giveaway now is simply forfeiting the right to plan the trip.

“With any of these travel giveaways, you could potentially lose control,” Ford said. “You may inherently need to give up your control, either because [you have to fly on] an airplane, or because of some of the details of the trip. And that makes me nervous.”

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