Why travel intent products are baffling accom

In the war to shift share away from the OTAs and maximise direct bookings, hotel marketers have become tactical experts with their media dollars.

When they invest a dollar into a media channel, they expect to see a return. As more and more hoteliers adopted the ‘shift share’ mentality, Google Branded Search campaigns became the go-to marketing solution for hoteliers looking to stay high on search results and battle the OTAs (who are aggressively bidding on your hotel’s brand keywords) for direct bookings.

Essentially, it’s cheaper to run ads to capture the booking than to pay OTA commissions.

The dirty secret about Google Branded Search:

The trouble with Google Branded Search is: these ads don’t bring new users into the funnel. While they may show an incredible return on advertising spend (ROAS), they only attract customers who’ve already decided to book with your brand. Hoteliers who have the additional budget or have low branded search volume need to look to tactics a little higher up the funnel.

That’s where travel intent targeting comes into play.

What makes travel intent tools so attractive to hotel marketers?

Travel intent targeting is essentially the ability to find users who have decided on a destination but have not yet chosen a specific hotel in that destination. Targeting travellers who aren’t necessarily familiar with your property but are headed to your city is the next logical step up the booking funnel, opening up an entire ecosystem of potential guests.

Travel intent is nothing new. But some of the tools are.

The concept of travel intent marketing has been around for years, but new tools and platforms boasting intent-based targeting have hoteliers more than a little overwhelmed, unsure which tools to pay attention to and which tools to ignore.

Below is a useful guide to understanding some of the key travel intent platforms and tactics currently competing for your hotel marketing dollars.

Google Non-Branded Search: 

What is it:

Google Non-Branded Search is a generic search for hotels in your destination. For example, instead of users searching your brand specifically i.e. “The Dalmar Fort Lauderdale” they are searching non-brand, generic keywords i.e. “Hotels in Fort Lauderdale”.

What makes it different:

Competition: Unlike Google Branded Search, the competition in this space is fierce, which makes your costs go up.

Relevance: It’s a great way to introduce your property to relevant users who you’d otherwise never get in front of.

Greater Control: Non-branded terms offer greater flexibility for creating content and landing pages based on keywords as you can send travellers who click on your ad directly to your website.

Optimisation: Great optimisation features, such as geo-targeting and dayparting.

Expedia TravelAds:

What is it:

Like Google, Expedia is a search engine, but just for hotels and flights. When a user searches for hotels in your destination on Expedia, you can pay to turn up higher in search results. The Link In Travel ads allow you to link users to your Expedia profile where travellers can book through Expedia (where you pay commission). Or, eligible independent hotels can opt for Link Out Travel ad campaigns where users are directed to the hotel website so they can book direct (no commission). 

What makes it different:

No waste: Expedia TravelAds are market specific. In other words, if you’re a Miami hotel, you’re only turning up in Miami related hotel searches.

New eyeballs: You can advertise to users searching for hotels or hotel and flight packages.

Greater segmentation: You can segment advertising to display based on need periods you’re looking to fill. For example, you can push only weekdays or just weekends. You can even structure your campaigns based on booking lead time, such as 0-7 days out, 14 days out, 21 days or more, or dateless searches.

Commissions: Hotels running ads to their Expedia profile (and not to their website) should be careful how much they are spending, as they are paying for clicks and also paying the commission if someone books.

Tripadvisor Sponsored Listings:

What is it:

Similar to Expedia Travel Ads, TripAdvisor Sponsored Listings allow you to pay for the top position in your market’s hotel search results. These ads link the potential guest to your TripAdvisor review page where travelers can read reviews, shop rates, view images, visit your website or call directly to book their stay.

Targeting that is taken into account below:

What makes it different:

High traffic: Great way to promote your property in highly competitive markets

Research: Combines purchasing intent with the research phase, plus provides social validation from positive reviews.

Share of voice: You have the ability to understand how much share of voice you’ll get based on your budget. For example, you can get a 30% share of voice for $X amount of spend in Y market.

Incremental page visits/booking referral from advertising efforts

Google Hotel Ads:

What is it?

Google Hotel Ads is broken out into two metasearch ad units. The first (see screenshot) pulls in competitive hotel rates for a property directly into the search engine results or beneath your hotel’s Google Business Listing. This happens when someone searches your property name specifically. Users can shop property rates and compare between the Online Travel Agents (OTAs) and direct website right from the results.

The second (see screenshot) is intent based. It turns up when someone performs non-branded searches “Hotels In Houston.”

What makes it different?

-Bidding: You can set your bids higher based on specific travel dates or length of stays. In other words, you can spend more to try to capture searches that are more valuable to you or vice-versa.

User convenience: Allows users to now shop hotel results and rates in one place without having to go to an OTA site. It’s great for hotels that have strong rate parity. If you are out of parity, it’s not worth it.

-Setup: Setup can take a few weeks to implement so make sure your booking engine is compatible and plan for about 30-60 days to complete.

Pacing: It’s difficult to pace your budget. If you aren’t careful you can spend your budget in a short amount of time.

Cost model: Also if you are an all-inclusive or higher ADR property, be sure to opt for the CPC model. Otherwise, you’ll likely be overpaying in commissions on the Cost per Acquisition model.

Adara & Sojern:

What is it:

We’ve lumped Adara & Sojern together as they offer a similar product known as trip-intent audiences. Both partners have an ecosystem of travel specific entities that encompass a travel data co-op that taps into real-time airline, OTA and hotel searches for your destination or city. For example, when a user searches for a flight to Chicago or a hotel in Chicago but does not book, Adara or Sojern allow you to serve display ads to that user with your hotel message. This allows you to introduce your property to in-market travelers in an attempt to capture bookings.

Adara banner ad for The Whitehall Houston hotel:

What makes it different:

Targeting: Targeting allows you to choose an origin city and destination city.

Optimisations: You can layer on additional audiences, such as International Geos, Interests, Flight Class, and Traveler Segments. 

Programmatic display: Unlike many of the other tools listed, the ads aren’t platform specific. The ads operate much more like traditional display advertising, allowing you to tap into larger audiences and target users across multiple platforms and placements.

Direct traffic: Adara and Sojern allow you to drive traffic directly to your website.

Audience data sharing: Perhaps one of the most exciting aspects: Both platforms have begun sharing their data with the Facebook platform, which means you can run Facebook using their audience (travel intent) data.

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