Digital Booking Sites

The Multi-Country Sites Strategy For Online Travel Brands: A Deep Dive

@denschaal

Mar 06, 2014 12:30 pm

Skift Take

When launching a new country site, companies have to consider the signals they are sending at the local level versus resource allocation.

— Dennis Schaal

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The world's leading travel booking sites utilize very disparate website strategies for global conquest.


The largest online travel sites grapple with this question daily: What is the most effective way to conquer the world and plant roots everywhere from Greece to Colombia and Indonesia?

It’s a complex question with many elements in such an expansion strategy, but one of the tools in these companies’ arsenals is launching distinct country sites with their own unique, top-level domains such as TripAdvisor.com.br (TripAdvisor Brazil), Trivago.ro (Trivago Romania), or FlightCentre.com.cn (Flight Centre China), for example.

Skift examined the URLs of the top online travel sites around the world and came up with a list of the top 10 travel-booking companies with the most top-level domains, and uncovered some surprises and nuances in strategy.

Priceline (240), Expedia (81), and HotelsCombined (61) have the most country sites with distinct, top-level domains for consumer-facing websites. In this list, which is an estimate based on companies’ answers to our queries in some cases, public filings, and our own research, we counted top-level domains such as Hotels.com and Hoteles.com, but not ca.hotels.com or numerous other country sites (Argentina, Belize, Bolivia etc.) all working off the Hoteles.com domain.

One thing that is immediately apparent from the list is that the number of top-level domains doesn’t necessarily correspond to online travel sites with the greatest number of monthly visitors.

For example, while TripAdvisor took 5th place with around 54 top-level domains, it had the second most visits in January, according to a Skift tally using SimilarWeb data.

And, while metasearch site Skyscanner sports 40 top-level domains, ranging from Skyscanner.ru (Skyscanner Russia) to Skyscanner.co.id (Skyscanner Indonesia), taking the seventh spot on the list of travel companies with the most top-level domains, it ranked only 18th in website visits in January, according to the SimilarWeb tracking.

Travel-Booking Companies With the Most Top-Level Domains (Estimate)

Booking Sites Top-Level Domains
1. Priceline 240
2. Expedia Inc. 81
3. HotelsCombined 61
4. Orbitz Worldwide 54
5. TripAdvisor 54
6. eDreams Odigeo 49
7. Skyscanner 40
8. HomeAway 32
9. Flight Centre Travel Group 30
10. TUI Travel PLC 18

Source: The companies themselves, public documents, estimates 

Any company’s traction, after all, is based on numerous factors, including paid digital spend and website conversion, in addition to its expanse of websites.

The Priceline Abberation

Although the Priceline Group, with subsidiaries including Booking.com, Priceline.com, Kayak, Agoda and Rentalcars.com, both topped our list with the most top-level domains, and Booking.com likewise was No. 1 in website visits in January, according to SimilarWeb, Priceline’s top ranking with the most top-level domains has to be seen as somewhat of an abberation.

That’s because Kayak, which Priceline acquired in May 2013, has around 233 top-level domains for Kayak, Swoodoo, Checkfelix and former brands such as SideStep, for example, while the remainder of the brands in the Priceline Group appear to have perhaps half a dozen (not counting redirects).

Expedia Inc., which placed second on our top-level domain list with 81, takes a disparate approach to top-level domains, depending on the brand. While the Expedia brand counts around 31 top-level domains, Expedia’s Hotels.com brand features just two — Hotels.com and Hoteles.com, although it has around 85 country sites working off these two domains.

The varying approaches to top-level domains by the world’s leading travel sites may have to do with branding, SEO, search-engine marketing, TV advertising, and allocation of resources, among other factors.

The Tradeoffs

“The trade-off between local relevance and SEO benefits on one side, and the benefits of simplicity are debatable,” says Robert Birge, Kayak’s chief marketing officer. “We tend to believe that country-level domains give an important signal to local travelers, so we’ve chosen that route.”

Skyscanner, another travel metasearch player, offers similar reasoning. Randi Wolfson, a spokesperson, claims that Skyscanner is the “most global travel search company on the market and as each customer is important to the company, it aims to localize its product accordingly, hence the dedicated domains for country sites.”

Ian Schafer, CEO of digital agency Deep Focus says when a company opts for a proliferation of top-level domains, it has less to do with branding, and overwhelmingly revolves around search engine optimization.

“It’s all about discovery,” Schafer says. “For sites that don’t have a URL like hotels.com, it’s imperative that results on those sites are found in every way possible. So it’s all about SEO and casting a wide net.”

An Integrated Approach

It’s clear that no elements in a company’s digital strategy can be considered in isolation.

Schafer points out that some of the companies with the fewest top-level domains — Booking.com is the ultimate example — are among the sites with the largest search engine marketing budgets, “and they all advertise on TV with their lead brands.”

Rand Fishkin of Moz Analytics says companies must consider the tradeoffs among the “unique advantages of domain names and separate properties for branding, for sale/acquisition, for cross-site marketing, and for owning multiple ways to reach consumers through any given channel versus the SEO benefits.”

“Expedia, Priceline, and all the rest have very sophisticated SEO and marketing analyses they run to determine when and whether it makes sense to combine domains or keep them separate,” Fishkin says.

Buying up as many top-level domains as possible versus merely adding language sites, which are sometimes merely translations of existing sites and work off the same domain, are key considerations, but they all should be part of a comprehensive strategy.

With online travel brands, there’s no one-size-fits-all strategy when conquering the world — or at least attempting to do so.

Fishkin says: “Suffice it to say, it’s a balancing act that needs a lot of data and a strong overall marketing strategy to work.”

Note: Consider the above list of Travel-Booking Companies With the Most Top-Level Domains as a good-faith estimate. Some companies responded to our inquires for a list of their top-level domains, some didn’t, and others we didn’t ask. Some of the company estimates were based on Securities and Exchange Commission filings, and our own sometimes-cumbersome research.

The list may sometimes omit URL redirects we are unaware of and other domains among companies’ intellectual property such as (in theory) thiscompanysucks.com, .travel domains, and others.

Feel free to provide feedback about inaccuracies.

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