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Search surprises: still room for competition in travel

The online travel giants still wield power but not as much as one might expect. Sally White reports

Work done on travel and hospitality internet searches by Conductor – a search platform now owned by US-owned shared work facilities group WeWork – negates a lot of the industry’s perceived wisdom! For a start, despite the power of the giants, there seems to be plenty of spare space for competition.

Interestingly, it also states that “despite the appeal of visuals in travel, image searches and video searches account for a small portion of organic search results”.

Conductor found that 56% of searches are open to competition. Of course, the majors are huge, with consultants Oxford Economics suggesting that TripAdvisor alone wields influence over $546 billion of travel spending last year. Yet, this was only just above 10% of all global spending, which in 2017 totalled around $5.3 trillion.

Conductor’s Searchlight platform tracked nearly 45,000 search terms that consumers used to find products, services, and information earlier this year. These represent 12,044,660 searches by consumers. It showed TripAdvisor leading with 9% of organic searches, Expedia hot on its heels with 8% and then Kayak coming in with 6%.

Despite the appeal of visuals in travel, image searches and video searches account for a small portion of organic search results”.

Looking at travel search by stage of the journey, TripAdvisor, it found, performs best in the early stages, winning 9% of the traffic. Mid-stage planning’s major player is Travel US News with 14%, and for late stage search it is Cheapflights that has the most.

By sector, Cheapflights.com has risen from fourth to first place in flight search since December 2017, taking 13% of flight-related searches. Kayak comes in second at 11% and Expedia ranks third with nine per cent.

Hotels.com leads on hotel search with 18%, but coming up fast is TripAdvisor, whose share has risen by 6% since 2017. It is now at second place with 17%, ahead of Expedia which comes in third with 11%. In the resorts category, however, TripAdvisor takes the lead by a broad margin with 15% and Expedia comes in at second along with US News.

TripAdvisor also leads on Attractions searches, with 10%. Second and third are Planetware and VacationIdea, with 8% and 6%.

For cruises, Cruise Critic, (TripAdvisor again) leads at 11%, and Norwegian and Carnival’s own websites come in second and third with 10% and 9% respectively. Princes and Royal Caribbean follow closely in fourth and fifth place with eight and 7%.

Conductor also found that the vast majority of first results in search for travel and hospitality were local, geotagged and linking back to the business’s website.

One brand making the most of this local dynamic is The Pod Hotels, which Conductor found listed No.1 on local results for massive searches, including ‘hotels DC’ which yields 368,000 monthly searches and ‘best hotels NYC’ which yields 22,000 monthly searches.

A closer look

Taking a closer look at TripAdvisor, in its study ‘Sizing the Worldwide Travel Economy’, Oxford Economics says that its content led to consumers taking extra trips to new destinations, as well as encouraging longer stays in new destinations and properties.

The report estimates that consumers spent an extra $80 billion globally on 32 million extra trips in 2017 that would not have happened without TripAdvisor. TripAdvisor’s influence has continued to grow year-on-year since 2007, it states, when the site influenced around 7% of all spending on leisure travel, with the impact on international tourism being “consistently higher” than for domestic trips.

Europe is where TripAdvisor wields the most influence

The level of impact that TripAdvisor has on travel booking decisions varies across global regions – the site has the least amount of influence in Asia Pacific (on nine per cent of travel spending) and also North America (ten per cent of spending), which the report says is down to the high proportion of domestic trips.

Europe is where TripAdvisor wields the most influence with 12.8% of travel spending from tourists in emerging Europe being directly affected by the site’s content, while this figure was 11.6% in Western Europe.

A final word on searches from TripAdvisor itself – in a study ‘Paths to Purchase’ with US media analytics group Comscore, it found that 73% of all first searches are generic. Again showing the potential for brands to compete to engage and influence consumers!

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