4 Travel Marketing Trends You Need to Act On


title travel marketing

I always assumed that running paid search for a business in the travel sector was a pretty glamourous job. I mean, you’re tasked with selling a product that’s already in pretty high demand. Seems like all you’d need to do is bid on a few keywords related to your business, create some enticing ads and watch the sales flood in…

Boy, was I off base. As it turns out, it is really freaking hard! Travel marketers are faced with a whole slew of challenges. Firstly, searchers do a TON of shopping way before they’re actually ready to buy, resulting in tons of dirty data and mixed signals for marketers. To make matters worse, the market is super saturated and the big guys have an insane cash flow, allowing them to offer crazy deals with absurdly low margins.

So, how can the average travel company compete? It’s all about understanding the market trends and finding creative ways to leverage them to your advantage. Here are four new trends all travel marketers should be ready for:

Travel Marketing Trend #1: Consumers Are Doing More Searches than Ever Prior to Booking Travel

I am perpetually in vacation planning mode. I subscribe to my fair share of websites that scout amazing travel deals, voraciously (and jealously) consume travel blogs and constantly pester friends and family to book trips with me. Many of my friends make fun of this travel obsession, so I was relieved to read that I’m not alone.

In fact, according to Think With Google, 37% of travelers in the U.S. think about vacation planning once a month, and 17% think about it at least once a week. This is both a blessing and a curse for travel marketers.

Google’s data shows that our travel planning behavior has shifted considerably; people now conduct lots of short research sessions, rather than a few, long research sessions. The problem is, this makes travel marketers feel that they must be ever-present on the SERP, even though the likelihood of converting many of these searchers is low.


For travel marketers who don’t have a ton of budget to blow, the best bet is to be super-selective about when and to whom your ads are shown. Essentially, you should cherry-pick the best search opportunities for your business.

There’s a couple of ways to go about doing this.

High-Intent Keywords

First things first, advertisers should prioritize keywords with high-intent search signals. When search terms include transactional verbs like buy, purchase, reserve, etc. or super-specific information (like the exact name of your hotel), it’s a strong indication that the searcher knows what he or she wants and is ready to take action.

For example, a boutique hotel on South Beach probably won’t see a ton of conversions from a keyword like “hotel prices in Miami.” The intent behind that search is very broad and indicates that the searcher is still in the consideration process. He may be doing initial research to determine whether he can afford a vacation in Miami, running a pricing comparison against hotels in Tampa or be interested in staying in mainland Miami, rather than South Beach. In contrast, the keyword “hotel reservation South Beach” is probably more likely to yield positive results. The searcher is indicating that he is willing to make a reservation AND he knows that he wants to stay on South Beach.

If you’re promoting services related to a specific event or near a landmark, these are also great keywords to bid on. For example, prior to this year’s Super Bowl, smart hoteliers should have added keywords like “hotels near Levi’s stadium” or “hotel by Super Bowl.” 

dimensions tab 

Time & Location Targeting

Account managers for travel sites should also take the time to dive into their account and pinpoint past trends. The Dimensions Tab in AdWords is a goldmine; it can help you identify what times of day and days of the week searchers are most likely to convert, as well as seasonal patterns and geographic locations where the bulk of your conversions are coming from. For example, resorts tend to have peak seasons in either summer or winter depending on their location. Use these metrics to make smart decisions in your account. Remember, your ads don’t have to show all the time—just the times that matter the most!

Travel Marketing Trend #2: Brand Loyalty Is Diminishing For Travel Sites

Travel marketers work tirelessly to develop creative, consistent brands and familiarize consumers with them. Consider JetBlue. Its team has spent years drilling the “You Above All” tagline into the minds of consumers. All of their collateral supports the “JetBlue Promise,” touting that they have the most legroom in coach, a best fare guarantee and high-quality snacks and drinks on every flight.


Similarly, ad execs for The Mandarin Oriental hotel properties have created a brand that is synonymous with glamour and luxury. Many of their ads feature celebrity endorsements with the catchphrase “(s)he’s a fan.”

 hotel ads

Given that airlines and hoteliers put a huge emphasis on branding themselves, it’s shocking to read that only 14% of leisure travelers always book with the first air brand that came to mind when they started their research. Even worse, that number drops to 10% when we look at the first hotel brand that came to mind during their research. (Both stats featured on Think With Google.)

The key here is not to give up on your branding efforts. It’s your branded content that leads consumers to consider your services in the first place. That said, we know that those booking travel tend to have a lengthy sales cycle and it’s critical that your brand is present throughout their consideration process.

The best way to ensure your brand remains top of mind for travel planners is to leverage the power of remarketing. Many advertisers shy away from running aggressive remarketing campaigns because users complain of ads that “stalk” them throughout their online sessions. Creepy or not, this method is incredibly effective. In fact, our research shows that people are 76% more likely to click on a remarketing ad than a non-remarketing display ad, even after seeing it numerous times.

 relative ctrs of gdn ads

This report is based on a sample size of 85 client accounts representing US- based SMBs in all verticals. The report incorporates data from June 2014, and is taken from Google Display Network.

I’d venture to guess that one of the most common reasons brand loyalty wavers for travel-based companies is because prospects identify cheaper deals through comparison sites. Display remarketing helps advertisers combat this phenomenon. For example, earlier this month, I needed to book a hotel in Las Vegas for a friend’s bachelorette party. I’ve always wanted to stay at the Cosmopolitan Hotel (it just seems so ritzy!), so first things first, I went directly to their site to check room rates.

Even their smallest rooms were way outside of my price range, so I headed to Expedia to explore cheaper options. I found plenty of hotels that were in convenient locations for a fraction of the cost, but didn’t have the chance to complete the purchase. Next thing you know, I start getting pummeled with ads from the Cosmopolitan.

 cosmopolitan gdn ads

Although I resisted the temptation to reserve a room as I saw the first few ads, they certainly made an impact on me. I started fantasizing about a stay at the hotel resort; enjoying martinis with breakfast, raiding my totally free minibar, lounging in my luxurious suite. The more ads I saw, the more I wanted needed to book a weekend at the Cosmopolitan.

banner ad cosmopolitan 

The straw that broke the camel’s back was the banner ad above. I wanted a vacation with “just the right amount of wrong!” Next thing you know, I’m maxing out my credit card on a hotel I can barely afford—a major win for the digital marketing team over at the Cosmopolitan.

You see, had they not remarketed to me, I definitely would have landed up staying at one of their low-grade competitors’ resorts (hello Circus Circus!). The brand had me hooked from the get-go, but I quickly dismissed it when I saw their exorbitant prices. Remarketing to me was all they needed to do to win me back.

The secret to running an aggressive remarketing campaign is two-fold. Firstly, you must set your impression caps super-high (potentially even to unlimited) to ensure that your ads actually get visibility. Many advertisers set conservative caps, in an effort to avoid that “creepy stalker effort” I mentioned earlier.

 impression caps served

This report is based on a sample size of 85 client accounts representing US- based SMBs in all verticals. The report incorporates data from June 2014, and is taken from Google Display Network.

However, their good intentions usually backfire. As you can see, Google rarely delivers ads to their full caps, meaning they are barely shown and do not have the desired effect on prospects. Secondly, advertisers should set their remarketing campaigns’ membership duration to three times their average sales cycle. This ensures that ads will continue to be shown to any lagging leads who have yet to convert.

customer match 

Travel marketers should also take advantage of one of Google’s newest features, Customer Match targeting. This allows advertisers to upload email lists for various segments of prospects to AdWords and create specific ads and bids for them. Chances are, you probably already have a list of contact information for prospects who are fans of your brand. This is a great way to prioritize these searchers.

Travel Marketing Trend #3: Mobile Searches Are on the Rise

Search engine marketers are seeing more mobile searches than ever before and the travel industry is no exception. In fact, Google says that mobile flight-related queries on Google.com are up 33% year over year, while mobile hotel queries are up 49%.

I mentioned earlier that travel-related search sessions are happening frequently and are shorter than ever—the popularity of mobile search probably has something to do with this. I certainly find myself doing most of my travel research on my smartphone—I look up flights and hotels when I’m out with friends and trying to convince them to join me on a trip, peruse travel sites while I sit on the bus, and sometimes even find myself vacation planning on my phone in bed.

 impression share by device

This report is based on a sample size of 240 accounts (WordStream clients) representing US-based SMBs in all verticals. The report incorporates data from the Google Search Network in July 2014.

Unfortunately, getting ads in front of mobile searchers can be a major challenge. Our research shows that you’re half as likely to show for mobile searchers, in comparison to desktop searchers. Why? Because on mobile phones, you’re competing for less ad real estate. If your ads aren’t landing position one or two, practically no one is seeing them, thanks to the layout of the mobile SERP.

 mobile top positions

The best way to snag those highly-coveted mobile spots is to be hyper-focused on ad rank. Of course, that means you’ll have to boost either your bids or your Quality Scores or both for ads that aren’t achieving good mobile impression share.

 ad rank

Bumping up bids is more easily said than done for those travel marketers that have limited AdWords budgets. In these cases, I recommend being selective with your bidding upgrades. Use steeper mobile bid modifiers for high-intent terms and reduce bids (or eliminate them altogether using a -100% bid modifier) for search terms with low intent.

Travel Marketing Trend #4: People Are Ready to Buy on their Smartphones

Generally, we’re all getting more and more comfortable making actual purchases on our mobile devices. This certainly holds true for the travel industry. Google reports that, in the past year, conversion rates have grown by 88% on mobile sites.

However, this number should be way higher. In the same study, Google also revealed that 46% of travelers who do mobile research say that their final booking decision was made while on a smartphone, but they moved to another device to complete the booking.

 can't book on mobile site

That’s a pretty frightening stat for travel advertisers. We know that it takes a lot of hard work to move a prospect down the funnel to the point where they are ready to take the plunge. God forbid they officially decide to go with your service, pull out their wallet to make the purchase, and then discover that it’s too hard to follow through with it on your mobile site!

Not only is this experience frustrating for the user, it may actually result in your losing the sale. If they’re looking to make the purchase immediately, they may turn to one of your competitors who has a more user-friendly mobile site. Or, they may hold off until they can get to a desktop computer and have a change of heart in the process.

The bottom line is—if a prospect is ready to book your service, you need to make it as easy as possible for them to do so, regardless of the device they are using.

If you’re suffering from uber-low mobile conversion rates, it’s time to revamp your mobile landing pages. Unfortunately, there’s no “secret sauce” to create a perfect mobile landing page, but here are a few components that travel advertisers should definitely include on their mobile site:

#1. Make It As Easy As Possible to Input Credit Card Information

credit card input options 

Simple tweaks like this are so often overlooked, but they make a world of difference to the end user. Far too many mobile check-out sites offer QWERTY keyboards for credit card input fields, forcing searchers to take an extra step and swap keyboards themselves. Others offer the number/symbol keypad in this situation, which provides slightly better UX, but is still a pain for those of us with fat fingers. By far, the best route to go is to offer the keypad provided when dialing a telephone. These are easy to read and a gazillion times easier to type on. For tips on how to set these up, check out Bryant Garvin’s awesome post on Search Engine Journal.

#2. Make Your Phone Number Omnipresent

We often forget the primary purpose of a phone—they aren’t just mini-pocket computers, they were designed to make calls! Don’t underestimate the importance of making your number available to site visitors—plenty of us still like to make bookings by talking to actual humans. Moreover, if a user gets exasperated with your mobile check-out experience, the first thing they’re likely to do is call you directly to book the service. If your number isn’t easily accessible on every page on your site, you may lose out on the sale.

 phone number visible

Even big brands neglect to do this from time to time. As you can see, Sheraton provides a clear, click-to-call option on their main site, which is ideal. However, it’s in a super-tiny font on their photo gallery page and barely visible on the room selection page. Even worse, when I actually start the mobile check-out process, the number is nowhere to be found. Users should never have to hunt for your contact information.

#3. Ask For the User’s Email Early On

People tend to use mobile devices when they’re on-the-go, meaning that there’s plenty of opportunities for them to get distracted during your check-out process. To avoid missing out on conversions from these users, ask for their email address early on in the process. That way, if they do abandon it before completion, you can use email marketing and Customer Match urge them to finish up.

 email capture on mobile

Another strategy that may be worth exploring is asking for their email address up front, as soon as they arrive on your mobile site. Use an enticing call-to-action, as Blinds.com demonstrates above. This may be especially valuable to businesses who have shabbier mobile sites, which prospects ditch pretty quickly.

#4. Run Call-Only Campaigns to Bypass Poor Mobile Landing Pages

If your mobile site is a complete nightmare that’s yielding little to no mobile conversions, you might be committing PPC suicide by sending searchers there. With the prevalence of mobile search, it is absolutely crucial to invest the time and resources to build a top-notch mobile experience.

In the meantime, while your site is under construction, try running call-only campaigns. This relatively new campaign format was designed to urge searchers to call the advertiser directly, rather than click through to their website.

 call only campaign

As you can see, it features the phone number as the headline of the ad and provides user-friendly click-to-call button. This certainly isn’t a long-term solution, but it’s a great option for those who have yet to, or are just starting to, revamp their mobile landing pages.

About the Author

Erin Sagin is a PPC Evangelist and Community Manager at WordStream. She was named the 3rd Most Influential PPC Expert of 2015 by PPC Hero. When she’s able to take a break from paid search, you’ll find her practicing her hula-hooping skills or planning her next trip to Latin America. You can follow Erin on Twitter and Google+.

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Mar 24, 2016

Whilst the article is certainly interesting and presents some good examples, the supporting data (graphs) are almost two years old, way to much for digital marketing.

Erin Sagin
Mar 25, 2016

thanks for commenting, rita! i can definitely work with our data scientist to get some updated copies of these graphs, but we see that these trends have been holding strong.

richard thomas
Mar 24, 2016

Some great insights in here - thanks for sharing - one area i would say needs highlighting further is I often find hotel PPC's maxing out at peak season - when this should only be happening if there is a reasonable amount of rooms available - the real sells especially in the UK are from January through to May - thats when hotels need to be utilising ppc to maximum affect - high season is usually far more expensive and the conversions are a lot harder to secure as hospitality providers tend to discount if they have rooms left - great for the end user - awful for the hotels :)

Erin Sagin
Mar 25, 2016

great point! seasonality is HUGE for travel marketers and that's where i really believe "cherry picking" the best opportunities at the best times is critical. thanks for commenting!

Matthew Warren
Mar 26, 2016

Interesting statistics about travel marketing, here. Even though it may seem bothersome, there are some great points here about remarketing, especially in the travel niche.

Consumers want easy and fast, but they are certainly willing to put in extra time planning that perfect vacation. Thanks for the ideas.

Erin Sagin
Mar 28, 2016

My pleasure! Thanks for reading :)

Apr 14, 2016

The article truly expressed the general pain and constrain of the business but it would have much appreciated if you have analysed the travel companies, airlines and ticket provider as hotels are still in far better position on budget and extras offering to drive the traffic.

Keen to see your insight analysis as I guess see lot of travel companies are focusing on organic search over the paid search. Many thanks.

Matt Davison
May 25, 2016

Great post Erin,

The travel industry is one of the fastest developing industries. I've been doing marketing for it for 7 years, its one of my favorite and its so easy to be left behind.

Some brands and companies can't afford to act slow and these points show big and small changes alike that can really make a difference to conversions.

Love that you included Rand and Ricky Bobby :P

Matt | onlinegusto.com

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