The travel landscape has changed dramatically

See where travel operators are failing and where they’re succeeding.

Today, travel operators’ market share is being squeezed by burgeoning online platforms – from Online Travel Agents (OTAs) like Booking.com, metasearch engines like Skyscanner and, of course Google, not to mention threats to existing inventory from the likes of Airbnb.

A recent study highlights the dominance of OTAs, with a share of 73% of online travel bookings. And 90% of people who book travel online say they visit a search engine before doing so.
 
So, what does this mean for travel operator brands such as tour companies, hotel chains and airlines?
  
We conducted a small experiment to see what the market looks like, where operators are succeeding (and failing), and what opportunities there are for them to retain their share of voice and secure new customers. We ran a number of travel-related Google searches and categorised what organic results came back on the first page.

Let’s look at a few of those searches. A search for “Paris hotel” resulted in zero travel operators in the first page of results. “Flight to Paris” didn’t fare much better: only 2 out of the 10 first page results coming from operators – in this case both from airline easyJet.

Now, more niche searches such as “ski holiday”, “adventure holiday” and “beach holiday” did come back featuring a higher proportion of operators (5/9, 7/9 and 6/10 respectively).

Here’s a summary of the results and operator share:
Chart showing Google results
Two recent changes to Google results pages to note:

1. Google is now serving fewer (and a variable number of) organic results on the first page, making it even harder for operators to get noticed
2. In replacement or in addition to organic results, Google is now embedding more ‘apps’ and snippets into results pages.

For the searches tested, the number of organic results varied from 9-10. At most one additional element was featured either at the top or bottom of organic results. These included Google News, Google Flights, Google Maps/Hotels and Featured Snippets.

Example of Google News embedded in results (based on search for “ski holiday”)


  

Example of Featured Snippet embedded in results (based on search for “adventure holiday”)


These changes to Google results shouldn’t be seen as a threat; they should be embraced by operators. As with traditional Google search, there’s a mix of organic and paid strategies to increasing a brand’s visibility.

If you operate hotels or other types of accommodation, you have to start by listing your locations and business information with Google. This will help if people are browsing maps or searching for your properties directly. However, if you want to be listed in the Google Maps/Hotels app on a results page, you’ll need to start paying. There are different pricing models such as commission-based, where you only pay if people book via Google.

If you’re genuinely creating news relating to travel, you can try and get your content listed on Google News. However, your best bet is to aim for getting your content chosen by Google as a Featured Snippet. These are selected programmatically when Google believes that a page is the best answer to a specific query.

But getting visitors to your site is only half the battle; converting them is the next challenge. While booking on mobile has lagged behind use of the device for research, it’s gaining ground. And fast. However, the mobile conversion rate for OTAs is considerably higher (2.63%) than that of hotel (1.14%) and airline (0.41%) websites, signalling the need for travel operators to invest further in improving their mobile experience.

While there are some changes operators can make to their own websites to play nicely with Google, they also need to look further afield. Operators should build partnerships with the very aggregators, media and third party websites that are eroding their share of voice.

Yes, as the old adage goes, if you can’t beat them, join them. The travel industry is used to working with trade channels, but today’s trade partners are diverse and constantly changing. There have been a number of recent moves where travel brands have given up on direct to go trade-only. Will we see more follow?

With increasing competition in the sector, pressures from a weak pound and the continued threat of terrorism, operators can’t simply rely on their own website to bring new customers in. The travel seas are choppy, but it’ll be an exhilarating ride for operators who can make the most of them.

Sources

Where do travel consumers click before they buy?, EyeForTravel and Jumpshot, February 2017
Search trends in 2016: Google results pages showing fewer organic results, Netimperative, October 2016
Google’s My business dashboard
Google Hotel Ads
Getting into Google News
Featured snippets in Google search
Is trade-only now a trend?, Travel Weekly, February 2017


Post by

Shelley Hyde