As it became clear during March that the COVID-19 pandemic
would impact every corner of the globe and that travel would be one of the
hardest hit sectors, brands went into cost-cutting mode to mitigate the
For many travel marketers, one of the first moves was to
pull the plug on paid advertising.
Data from SimilarWeb tells the story, with traffic from paid
channels plunging to nearly zero for more than a dozen brands we checked.
Even the two biggest online travel agencies – Expedia Group
and Booking Holdings – slashed marketing spending in the second quarter. Expedia
Group spent just $296 million on selling and marketing, compared to $1.6
billion in the same period in 2019, and Booking Holdings
spent $211 million compared to $1.37 billion a year earlier.
to paid advertising primarily impact one search engine – Google, which is by
far the dominant pay-per-click ad platform.
several years there has been a growing cacophony of complaints about Google’s
position in the travel industry – for its dominance in ad space, its ongoing
development of consumer-focused travel tools and more recently for what was
viewed by some as a paltry COVID-relief ad credit
a less-than-collaborative stance with struggling travel advertisers.
while travel companies may be keen to scale back the amount of money they are
adding to Google’s coffers, they still need to attract eyeballs.
so with budgets cut and ROI top of mind, many are turning to content marketing
to drive organic traffic.
has forced us… to move to more of a newsroom environment and climate at
Skyscanner, as stories develop, as markets open… we are watching the trends
like hawks and making sure that we can respond very quickly,” says Chantal
Thomas, senior director of audience development and SEO at Skyscanner.
started to cater our content on our blog to users who were asking questions about COVID… Are face
masks required for travel? What markets are open? Where can I go? Do I need a
visa to travel here?”
even in this arena, Google is an instrumental tool to surface content that will
be relevant for users.
“In their Google Trends product, they tell us by market – with COVID impacting and
influencing user searches and their behaviors – what themes and what terms
people are looking for. This has been one of our greatest assets and tools for
helping us develop this content that we know users are going to read and going
to engage with,” Thomas says.
even though COVID has curtailed its volume of traffic, Skyscanner has found
success in driving engagement through direct and organic strategies, creating
useful content and sharing it through social channels and on its website.
Klook is another brand that is showing recovery in its
direct and organic channels, while being “prudent on expenditure,” says Marcus
Yong, Klook’s vice president of marketing for APAC.
markets where certain products are new and not as well-known, we try to do more
storytelling and provide useful content to our users,” Yong says.
example, our Klook blog is visited by millions of visitors globally each month
and many trust us as a credible source of travel-related information.
Particularly in markets that were on stay-home orders previously, we observed
that people still wanted to be entertained and inspired and would search for
new things to do in the comfort and safety of their homes.”
says Klook is also using new techniques such as live-streaming to engage its
customers, 75% of which are age 18 to 25.
And Thomas says this type of diversified, omni-channel
mindset, is “more important than ever before.”
“There is no way this [COVID] won’t change us for the
future,” she says.
“Brands like Skyscanner and other brands adapt and evolve
their strategies to meet what users are looking for nowadays. We’ll all come
out of this stronger than we were to begin with.”