Skift Take

Once dismissed as a commission-free loss leader, flights are a new battleground as Expedia and Hopper compete over keywords and customers on mobile.

Series: Dennis' Online Travel Briefing

Dennis' Online Travel Briefing

Editor’s Note: Every Wednesday, Executive Editor and online travel rockstar Dennis Schaal will bring readers exclusive reporting and insight into the business of online travel and digital booking, and how this sector has an impact across the travel industry.

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Online Travel This Week

There were winners, including Vrbo, Hopper, and Expedia, and losers such as Airbnb, in the first half of 2022 in the U.S. as online travel agencies competed with one another via mobile app updates; Snap, TikTok, and TV marketing campaigns; and other forms of paid search spend.

Here are seven takeaways from Apptopia’s U.S. app download findings (see chart below) among online travel agencies in the first half of this year:

1. It’s Good to Have Vacation Rentals
Apps that offers travelers vacation rentals generally have more traction than apps devoid of vacation rentals. Note to hotel chains such as Hilton and Hyatt that have largely abstained from vacation rentals: Get in the game. OK, we hear they are indeed readying a debut in vacation rentals, as is American Express Fine Hotels.

2. Vrbo Was Most Downloaded App
Fueled by doubling its growth rate in the U.S. in 2022, Vrbo was the most-downloaded app with 10 million downloads. Vrbo was #4 last year so it overtook , Airbnb, and Hopper to achieve its #1 status so far in 2022. Airbnb fell from second most-downloaded app in the U.S. in 2022 to fifth in the first half of 2022.

3. Airbnb Spent Marketing Dollars to Counter a Vrbo Organic Advantage
Vrbo was the top organic result for the keyword “vacation rentals,” which may be because it has always focused on and been known for whole homes. Airbnb invested in paid search for the keyword “vacation rentals” in Apple’s App Store in April, as well as for “vrbo” in a bid to topple its rival, Apptopia stated. At the same time, Vrbo increased its app update frequency in the first half of 2022, contributing to the app’s growth.

4. Hopper Takes Airbnb Down a Peg or Two

Apptopia said Hopper recently topped Airbnb as the online travel agency with the highest market share of monthly active users. Hopper is the fastest-growing online travel agency app. Maybe this fintech products of Hoppers really do have appeal — especially during times like this when traveling can be fraught.

5. Expedia and Hopper Are Battling Over Flights
Expedia launched flight price predictions in its app in late April, in part to compete with Hopper, which has gained share based on airfare predictions and its price freeze product. Expedia’s app has consistently ranked higher than Hopper’s in the app store for about a month since mid-May.

Expedia is the leading bidder on the keyword “flight” in the App store. Hopper, according to Apptopia, purchased eight keywords by April — most related to “flight” — but slowed its spend in May as downloads declined.

An Expedia Group spokesperson said Expedia didn’t launch airfare change notifications to compete with Hopper but to ensure that travelers feel confident about booking with Expedia.

A Hopper spokesperson said when asked about Expedia’s launch of flight price-change notifications: “Hopper is the only industry player that has been forecasting airfare up to a year in advance with 95 percent recommendation accuracy. To do this we leverage trillions of pricing data points, eight years of historical data and proprietary machine learning algorithms that are constantly adapting with real-time data. Dynamically pricing these fintech products properly, in order to generate revenue and delight customers simultaneously, is difficult and not easily replicated.”

6. Vrbo’s TikTok Campaign Was a Winner
Vrbo increased its presence in the consumer mindset by advertising on TikTok for the first time in the first half of 2022, leveraging a TV campaign through a hashtag challenge on TikTok. “The challenge generated 4.7 million views in three days, with 1.9 million videos being created, 12 million comments made and 37 million shares,” according to Broadcasting+Cable.

7. The Booking.com App Gained U.S. Market Share

The Booking.com app, which was the third-most-downloaded in the first half of 2022, “was the only online travel agency app to consistently gain market share in the U.S. in 2022,” Apptopia stated, and Booking.com’s Snap campaign may have contributed. 

Booking.com participated in a beta for Snap’s dynamic travel ads, and used it to remarket hotels that Booking.com site visitors had previously seen on Booking.com.

In Brief

Buy Now Pay Later for Flights Tripled Over July 4 Weekend

Travelers want to fly even if they can’t really afford it. Affirm  reported that purchases of its products, such as buy now pay later for flights, tripled year over year over the July 4 weekend. 

Property Manager Tries to Sell Its Tech Assets

WanderJaunt, a U.S.-based vacation rental property manager that abruptly shut down last month, is running a sale of its tech assets, Skift has learned. Skift

 Vacasa Lays Off Salespeople

Property manager Vacasa laid off a small number of its salespeople — around 25 — as it restructured to focus on inbound sales. Since reporting about the restructuring, Skift has also learned Vacasa gave an ultimatum to many other sales staffers to produce or face the consequences. Skift

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Tags: Affirm, airbnb, apps, booking.com, Dennis' Online Travel Briefing, downloads, expedia, future of lodging, hopper, mobile, online travel newsletter, Skift Pro Columns, snap, tiktok, vacasa, vrbo, wanderjaunt