Travel Industry Trends: How Google is Changing the Travel Industry
Over the past few years, it’s easy to notice that Google has been changing how it shows its search results. These changes can be seen especially prevalent in the hospitality industry. Gone are the days of solely relying on Search Engine Optimization for your website. With Google showing more and more ads and metasearch results at the top of the page your organic results continue to fall lower. Google has hyper-monetized its Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) and hotels, resorts and vacation rental companies need to adapt. In this blog post, we will discuss travel industry trends including:
- The Evolution of Offerings
- Changes to Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs)
- Rise of Metasearch
- New Features with Google Trips
- The Fallout for Top Partners
The Evolution of Offerings
Google’s move to its current strategy for hospitality really begins in 2010. In 2010 Google purchased the travel data company ITA for $700 Million ITA software aggregate rates from 3rd party booking engines for airlines. This effectively launched Google flights. This is Google’s first real metasearch platform. With Google purchasing ITA one of their conditions was having a level playing field and not being able to license its software at a higher price to competitors. Also in 2011 Google released its hotel finder beta program displaying hotel rates in their maps. This was their initial Metasearch aggregation for the Hotel Industry.
Google’s next major changes in regard to hospitality came in 2014. Google announced a licensing agreement with startup Room 77 to allow travelers to compare and book rooms within the Google platform. These new features allowed Google to create a captive demand platform undermining OTAs.
It’s easy to see how these major evolutions of Google’s hospitality offerings from 2011 to 2014 are what lays the groundwork for the changes we’ve seen from Google over the last 10 years. Google continues to innovate within the Travel industry and it is essential to keep up with these changes.
Changes to Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs)
One area where you can clearly see these changes are on Google’s search engine results pages. If you looked at Google’s results pages 10 years ago you would see nothing but organic rankings. When people were doing SEO at this point they were writing not necessary for travelers but for the Google algorithms. If you had put enough keywords in your content you could probably rank on the first page of Google. This was a time your SEO was especially critical. The algorithms have clearly changed over time with them attempting to find results that are most relevant for travelers and not just show the results that were optimized for keywords.
By looking at today’s Google results pages you can see that ads rule. Organic results are at times showing well below the fold. This means that SEO alone is not enough and you need a comprehensive Ads and Metasearch strategy. With OTAs and other travel companies spending billions on Google to be above the fold you don’t want to be lost in the shuffle.
Although Google Ads and Metasearch are necessary with current travel industry trends, don’t think that your SEO isn’t important. A large number of travelers still make it to the organic search results. Not only that but how well your website is optimized still has a major effect on how and where your property shows up in ads and metasearch. So in the end, don’t forget about the quality of your website and optimizing it for search. It will not only affect your organic results but paid campaigns as well.
Rise of Metasearch
One of the biggest travel industry trends that is continuing in 2020 is Metasearch. Metasearch really affects the bottom of the funnel searches. These are travelers that are searching for your brand name. Once they know where they’re going to stay it’s all about prices and dates. Google’s metasearch platform provides travelers with prices from different vendors and amenities. It’s extremely convenient for travelers to compare rates on Google’s metasearch platform especially with it showing up at the top of the page.
For example, you can see how Prince Waikiki who’s a TNS customer appears in Metasearch. Appearing at the top is their brand which travelers can click on to book direct. Below are the OTAs that your business would have to pay commission on for the bookings. In Metasearch it is critical that your business has competitive rates for the dates that are showing so that travelers click on your brand to book direct.
Basically Google has realized how important metasearch is and created its own platform. With the convenience for travelers, in 2020 being on Google’s metasearch platform is non-negotiable.
New Features with Google Trips and Travel Planner
Google isn’t done innovating in the Travel Industry. Along with Google’s metasearch platform for lodging, Google Trips allows users to schedule their trips from start to finish. To start, based on previous searches they will give recommendations for your destination. Then it will allow you to complete your vacation plan through Google including flights, lodging, all the way to attractions within the same interface.
This means not only that you need to be present in metasearch but your Google My Business profile needs to be up to date. This has an impact on your organic results as well as your results within the Google Travel Planner interface. It’s critical to keep your profile up to date with as much info as possible.
The Fallout for Top Partners
The changes that have come with Google over time have not come without pain from some of their top travel partners. Here are just a few quotes from key players who pay billions of dollars on Google Ads and now have to compete with other offerings within Google.
“Loss of revenue in our SEO channel in hotel has been negatively affecting our bottom line, and we will prudently reduce and re-allocate expenses in certain parts of our business to preserve strong profitability while investing in strategic growth areas.”
- Prepared Remarks from TripAdvisor’s Q3 2019 Earnings Call
“We saw incremental weakness in SEO volumes and a related shift to high-cost marketing channels. We saw lower average daily rates than we expected, which weighed on our lodging results, and profit was softer than expected at trivago and Vrbo.”
- Mark Okerstrom, CEO & President of Expedia Group – Q3 2019 Earnings Call
OTAs, other Metasearch Sites, and review sites are feeling the pain from Google’s changes and have to adapt. While the entire industry is changing your business needs to adapt to the changes as well.
Key Takeaways of Travel Industry Trends
Overall Google plays a critical role in leading travelers down the buyer’s journey to conversion. With an 80 day buying cycle it is critical to stay in front of travelers from top to bottom of the funnel. SEO is still critical along with the right strategies for PPC. You need to have the right account strategy, campaign strategy and keyword strategy from top to bottom. Along with PPC, you need to have the right metasearch strategy to beat OTAs and get travelers to book direct. Overall Google isn’t done innovating in the travel industry. In the end, what works today may not work tomorrow so it is critical to stay on top of current trends.