The travel industry, from accommodation and transport to tours and activities, is by definition a dynamic market. This makes travel accounts some of the most challenging but interesting PPC accounts to work on.
In order to fully capture customers’ intent and maximise your bookings, you need to keep up with the changes in both consumer behaviour as well as embrace new methods when it comes to your PPC campaigns.
Below I’ve used TrekkSoft’s excellent 2019-2020 travel statistics report to outline some of the major changes facing the travel industry, as well as actionable steps you can take to improve your Google Ads, and Facebook and Instagram campaigns in the face of change.
Development 1: Whilst mobile is important, the customer journey is not linear, and search methods are evolving
Historically digital marketers have believed that consumers use mobile to research, and then convert on desktop. With the evolution of online payment methods meaning consumers don’t need to get their card out to pay from their phone, mobile as the last click before conversion is on the rise.
What’s interesting to see, is that this trend is true even with higher ticket items.
As Stephanie Kutschera from Trekk Soft writes: “Customers are comfortable researching, booking and planning their entire trip to a new travel destination on a mobile device. Top consumer markets displaying this trend include India who came out top with 87%, Brazil (67%), Japan (59%), South Korea (53%), US (48%), Australia & United Kingdom (45%) and France (44%).” (Google 2018)
It isn’t however as easy as just moving budget to mobile.
Google believes that: “Today, people are no longer following a linear path from awareness to consideration to purchase. They are narrowing and broadening their consideration set in unique and unpredictable moments.” (Google 2019)
Looking to the future, the picture will only become more complex.
Research from World Ticket Solutions suggests that 62% of Generation Z and millennial consumers want visual search over any other new technology. (World Ticket Solutions 2019)
So what does this mean for travel marketers?
- Make sure that your website supports digital wallet payment methods to make the user journey as seamless as possible. You can read about how to do this through the Google Pay API here..
- As people’s research takes them over multiple platforms and sites, you need to make sure that you’re covering as many channels as you feasibly can. A large part of making this decision will be ensuring you are using an appropriate attribution model.
- Work on having beautiful creatives that represent the destinations you have a presence in, not just your brand. As users are looking for a more visual way to search, and the majority of new inventory that Google announced at Google Marketing Live this year is visual, this will be essential to keeping up with the opportunities you’ll be presented with.
- Basic, but it is worth spending money to optimise your site for mobile. One very important consideration for this in terms of your paid activity is page loading speed, which you can check using this tool.
Development 2: The consideration phase might actually be quite a lot shorter than you’d expect
The implications of this are that actually whilst you may still have time in upper funnel channels to entice people into booking a holiday in the first place, to ensure that they actually do that with you means a quick turnaround.
Google data found that hotels and flights are booked in advance of 12 weeks. Within the 3 months prior to the trip date, the search increases further for experiences. (Google 2019)
- If the volume of traffic coming onto your site allows, create more short-term remarketing lists. That is, create lists of visitors within 1-2 days, 3-5 days, 6-7 days for example. Given potentially very short decision-making windows, being able to bid up on the freshest visitors to your site is going to be very valuable.
- Revamp your remarketing strategy if you haven’t done so recently. For Facebook consider creating an in-platform funnel – e.g. video campaigns for initial engagement, then retargeting campaigns to split into audiences depending on the level of engagement with the initial video. For Search ads, consider using ad customisers to create ads specific to searchers depending on the audience that they fall into.
Development 3: Seasonality may become less predictable
Traditionally peak holiday periods have been dictated by school and work schedules, but as CN Traveller states:
“Given that by 2020 it’s estimated that roughly half the UK and American workforce will be freelance and that 40 per cent more children were being home-schooled in 2017 than in 2014 (48,000 in total), it’s no surprise that parents will be embracing the freedom this gives.”
As working and schooling patterns change, so too will travel patterns. That’s unlikely to happen overnight, but the travel industry needs to be prepared to maximise on intent regardless of the time of year.
- Essentially seasonality reflects demand that changes with time. Fortunately for companies in the travel industry, there are a range of demand (and supply) based bidding systems you could be using to capture this intent, outside of the traditional seasonality. I wrote more in-depth about some of the scripts available in another post on our blog, but the kinds of changes you can find scripts to base bids on include Forex rates and weather. The latter could be particularly beneficial for lower price range or last-minute providers.
- Don’t forget basic micro trends also. TrekkSoft found that bookings peak on a Monday and are at their lowest on Saturdays. You can build on this by automating 24/7 bid changes to maximise on hourly trends also (see script 123 on my colleague Wes’ post here).
Development 4: The out-bound Chinese tourism market is growing
Clearly the potential impact of growing interest in foreign travel from the Chinese market could have a massive impact on travel operators in the rest of the world.
- One very quick fix is to make sure your campaigns are targeting all languages. Customers will still need to search for your keywords in order for your ads to be eligible, but if you’re targeting all languages your ads will be eligible regardless of the language their browser is set to. For example, if a Chinese tourist is searching on Google for flights within Europe (in English) whilst they are already away, if their Google browser is set to Mandarin you will miss this intent.
- That is assuming they are searching on Google of course. If you really want to commit to tapping this market, you could consider running activity on Baidu – the Chinese search engine with an estimated 2 billion users worldwide, which offers ad placements. You can read a blog here on the steps you need to go through to open a Baidu account. Whilst it can be a slow process, it could be potentially a very interesting opportunity to reach huge numbers of potential customers.
- A half-way house between these would be to run foreign language campaigns, targeting countries you operate in. For example, you could translate your existing campaigns into Mandarin or Cantonese, in order to reach those people already abroad. Of course your bounce rates and conversion rates would be much better if you are also able to provide a landing page in the same language as your ads.
Development 5: 48% of activities and experiences are booked once actually on holiday
Especially after the EU’s decision to remove data roaming charges within the EU in 2019, as well as a variety of networks deciding to waive roaming fees further afield, holiday makers can be more flexible when abroad than ever.
This is reflected in nearly half of all activities being booked once a traveller is in their destination, as well as a 6x increase in searches for “activities near me”, or similar, in the last 2 years (Google 2019).
This all indicates a need, especially for tour and activity providers, to create a more nuanced PPC strategy.
- One answer to this is really the same as one of the answers I gave to the question of capturing the more mobile Chinese market. By running campaigns targeting popular holiday destinations in the language of the tourists you are trying to sell to, likely only on mobile also, you can monopolise on this demand.
- This could be particularly powerful for providers who offer more than one service in the industry: accommodation and activities for example, or flights and tours. The reason being that you could create sophisticated remarketing strategies to cross-sell. For example, if you have a list of people who have booked a hostel in Madrid, you can then bid aggressively on their searches for activities in Madrid. Perhaps you might even want to be able to offer them a discount for existing customers, which you could do right in your ad copy.
We’d love to hear any changes you’ve noticed in your travel PPC accounts and if there is anything we can do to help – get in touch!