Nowadays, more and more websites are coming online. There are several ways an online travel agency could market its products. Therefore,my analysis will focus on the best ways to promote, drive traffic and sales to a travel website in 2018 online.
1. The Meta search engine arena
Let me begin with a quick definition of “meta search engine”. A meta search engine is a price comparison website that compares the offers of hundreds of online travel agencies and airlines. Meta search engines are considered the most effective and preferred way for travellers to find the flights of their choice these days. The plethora of flight options, along with the live availability of flight pricing make selecting the cheapest flight easy. Meta search engines are user friendly and drive millions of visitors daily. There are several meta search engines around the globe. I will name some of the most well-known ones per continent.
- Europe: Skyscanner and Jetradar
- Asia: Wego
- USA: Kayak and Hipmunk
- Australia: Iwanthatflight and Jetradar
- Africa: Cheapflights
Most of the above mentioned search engines have a global presence in almost every continent and country and also support global currency payments. I am a frequent flyer and my personal favorites are Wego and Jetradar. Due to their smaller size (if compared with meta search giants such as Kayak or Skyscanner),they sometimes host smaller travel agencies which provide very generous discounts in order to penetrate the market and create brand awareness. There are some pros and cons for an online travel agency when working with meta search engines. Pros:The traffic from meta search engines is considered the most highly probable to convert. Several payment models can be agreed on with the meta search engines. To name the most commonly used ones: a) Cost Per Acquisition and b) Cost Per Click. Cons:Very hard to be accepted in any of the aforementioned engines if you can’t commit to a certain amount of minimum ad spend annually. Thus, large meta search engines, which can make a difference to the traffic and sales volume of an O.T.A, make it difficult for small travel agencies with no proven financial background. Moreover, due to the high conversion rate, the meta search engines can drive an O.T.A to allocate over 60 per cent of their annual marketing budget towards those engines. This makes them vulnerable to any radical change. Each meta search engine may suddenly introduce or increase CPC or CPA.
2.Google AdWords and Bing search campaigns
For years, they were considered the preferred method for Online Travel Agencies to increase sales. As a result, this space became very saturated resulting to a real bidding war on popular keywords. On occasion, an O.T.A could pay over $100 for a simple click to an advert that was attached to a very popular keyword like “cheap flights”. Over the last couple of years, and due to the rise of the meta search engines in the travel industry, more and more O.T.A have chosen to diminish their Google and Bing AdWords spend significantly and focus on different distribution channels. Pros:Easy and quick set up for campaigns. Multiple options available (i.e, search campaigns, mobile only campaigns, Google flights campaigns).Cons:Very saturated space, O.T.A have to pay a fortune to bid on popular keywords like cheap flights or cheap holidays. The campaigns require constant optimization to drive positive results.
Affiliate marketing, in my opinion, can either be a super star among the marketing distribution channels of an O.T.A or complete Armageddon. There are hundreds of affiliate networks around the world. I will name some of the most well-known in the travel vertical: a) Commission Junction by Conversant and b) TradeDoubler. Both have their strengths and weaknesses as affiliate networks, but, they host thousands (literally) of publishers ready to promote any travel service and drive hundreds of bookings should the O.T.A be ready to play by the rules of the game. Publishers usually work on hundreds of projects simultaneously and the most common way they participate in an OTA campaign is by setting up a basic promotion either via regular newsletters or social media and let it run for a period with a test budget. Should they make money out of it, they will continue the promotion. If not, they will pause that particular campaign and look for a new one. Publishers require constant pampering in order to perform. They need special promotions, discount coupons, access to exclusive deals AND exclusive payouts! Constant communication is of utmost importance. It is not easy to find the right publisher for your product and, of course, not every publisher promoting travel services is capable of selling YOUR travel offers. Pros: You can get massive (seriously) exposure through publishers and pay them via the payment model of your choice (CPA/CPV/CPL). Cons: You will have to find the right publishers for your product and also keep them motivated to promote your offers, even if they don’t get sales. Finding the right publisher sometimes look like you are looking for a needle in a haystack. Hiring third parties to manage your affiliate networks campaign comes with a cost and doesn’t guarantee success. Finally, we should also bear in mind the high monthly recurring costs of the affiliate network platforms.
Another traditional way OTAs use to promote their services is SEO. SEO has become a very challenging unpaid form of advertising to promote services and products.Did I just say “unpaid”? Apologies for the misconception, there is no free of charge SEO in reality. Yes, I agree that Google doesn’t charge the OTA anything for the organic placement. However, we have to realize that since SEO has become very scientific while this space is also very saturated, an OTA would have to invest heavily into the right people, either in house or to an agency to take over all the aspects of SEO on behalf of the company (in page SEO, backlinks, technical SEO and more). Yes, you guessed right. That comes with a very cost. Some OTAs that sell mainly holiday packages are still investing a lot of money in this channel, while
others selling mainly flights or hotels rely on other means. Pros:Organic traffic is by far the most engaging traffic you can get. Engaging = Sales. Cons:80 per cent of people don’t go beyond the second page of Google’s results. It’s
either you are on page one or two or you don’t get game changing traffic.Targeting the low hanging fruit (long tail keywords) could only send you some traffic, but not enough to run a business with, say, 10 people on the payroll.
SEO comes with a high cost for the people managing it.
Gone are the days in which organic social media advertising was an option. Well, you can still post to Facebook groups and hope to receive some leads, but this takes time and serious effort. Paid advertising is an option, especially since the latest Facebook update, control of the targeted venue has become state of the art. It’s also cheaper than Google AdWords. However, an OTA would still have to pay a fortune to drive very high traffic to a website. Pros: Very good control of the people an OTA can target to promote its offers. Cons: A larger budget is required to drive Sales. It is difficult to get a return on investment due to the thin profit margins in the online travel industry.
My opinion with regard to the best ways to promote a travel website in 2018 is that an OTA should try every distribution channel available in order to choose which one is driving the best results for them. After all, every business has a different selling point which may work better with a particular method of promotion. Meta search engines are among the best ways to monetize as an OTA, but a rational business should always have a contingency plan and avoid putting all eggs in one basket.
I hope you enjoyed the article. Please let me know your thoughts in the comments.