Skift Take

Call it a vote of confidence in the holiday travel season: Travel marketers came back to Google and other outlets in a big way in October.

There’s an interactive relationship between travel demand that exists of its own volition, and marketing to instill and expand it. What’s clear about the dynamic is that travel marketers had enough confidence about the travel rebound to return to paid search engine marketing in a huge way in October, approaching pre-pandemic levels.

Analyzing U.S. desktop traffic in October 2021 versus a year earlier, online audience analytics firm SimilarWeb found that paid search traffic in vacation rentals jumped more than 100 percent during the period, and search engine marketing-spawned traffic from the cruise industry, which was dormant a year earlier, likewise rose 400 percent (See first chart below).

“In other sectors, paid search is nearly back to 2019 levels, with this push towards paid search [being] a positive indicator of the overall travel recovery,” according to Bernstein research, which ran a webinar that featured the SimilarWeb presentation.

Expedia Group, meanwhile, outspent all other travel marketers, whether it was rival online travel agencies, hotels or airlines, on U.S. desktop marketing in October, SimilarWeb found. (See second chart below.) Expedia Group, which is strongest stateside, spent around $15 million in search engine marketing on platforms such as Google, considerably outpacing rival Booking Holdings, which counts Amsterdam-based Booking.com as its largest brand.

Expedia’s advantage came despite Booking Holdings seeking to gain ground, particularly in its short-term rental business, in the U.S.

“Data shows that Expedia has been aggressively re-investing into paid search since the start of year (and Vrbo through TV ads,)” Bernstein wrote. “Interestingly, last summer we saw a similar playbook from Booking in the U.S., who is now actively trying to break into the U.S. market through its connected trip offering. However, Expedia’s recent surge into paid traffic shows how competitive the U.S. landscape is becoming. Throughout the summer, we also (saw) Tripadvisor lean back into marketing.”

True to its recent strategy bent, Airbnb was not among the biggest spenders in paid marketing in October, leaning into its brand/direct approach instead.

Expedia Winning

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Tags: airbnb, alternative accommodations, booking holdings, booking.com, expedia, google, hotels, marketing, paid marketing, paid search, short-term rentals, vacation rentals

Photo credit: An Airbnb guest in Mexico City. Vacation rental firms, including Expedia's Vrbo, did ample marketing during October while Airbnb trailed. Adam Planos / Airbnb

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