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U.K. travel industry: State of play

Here is what you need know about the state of travel performance marketing trends today in the U.K. and the steps and strategies to help you be successful with Microsoft Advertising.

Search marketplace trends

2021 in the U.K. travel market has been a year of slow, but steady recovery. Below, you can see the clicks going towards travel companies since January. The U.S. travel ecosystem in comparison saw much faster recovery during 2021 but also an equally rapid decline in recent weeks due to the Delta COVID variant and summer holidays ending, however, Europe remains upbeat as of writing.

Travel marketplace search click trends across the United States and Europe

Line chart time series showing the United States travel marketplace clicks recovering faster than Europe until August of 2021, when Delta cases caused a large drop while Europe remained on a positive upward trend.

Microsoft internal data, travel vertical search clicks, U.S., U.K., DE, IT, SP, FR, January 2021–August 2021.

Even with this sharp recovery in 2021, you can see when zooming out to before the start of the pandemic how big a gap remains before the industry returns to a state of normality. The UK is on a positive trajectory, however, as we start to leave “peak season,” the travel industry will look to winter breaks and those missed long weekend trips across Europe.

U.K. travel marketplace search ad clicks over time

Line chart time series showing the United States travel marketplace clicks recovering faster than Europe until August of 2021, when Delta cases caused a large drop while Europe remained on a positive upward trend.

Microsoft internal data, travel vertical search clicks, U.K., January 2020-August 2021.

Native marketplace trends

What has changed is that clients are utilising other formats such as native advertising to approach the sales funnel more strategically and drive incremental search performance as the consumer decision journey has become more complicated. We conducted a Microsoft Native ad incrementality lift analysis for all of Microsoft’s travel brands and there has been a 3.5x uplift in brand awareness per user, measured by post-exposure brand search rate, a 5.1x uplift in brand consideration per user, measured by post-exposure domain visit rate, 5.1x uplift in brand purchase per users, measured by post-exposure conversion page rate. (Note that results may vary for each brand based on campaign settings, targeted audiences, and other factors. These brands may be a non-representative sample of all brands on the marketplace). This behaviour and type of media buying has surpassed pre-pandemic times in the U.K.

U.K. travel marketplace native ad clicks over time

Vertical bar chart time series showing that native advertising travel vertical clicks doubled in the space of a week during May 2021 and have continued to remain high thereafter.

Microsoft internal data, travel vertical native ad clicks, U.K., January 2020-August 2021.

Travel category trends

The reason for the consumer decision journey being more complicated is due to the nature of travel restrictions and ‘traffic light’ systems in place. Consumers switch between products frequently and customers with multiple offerings are having to use more nuanced search advertising setups to reach people as they navigate between different travel options. You can see below the different touchpoints consumers go through that need to be addressed in advertising.

Multi-touch click attribution for various travel industry categories

Table showing 56%25 of users who search for a hotel first look for another travel product, which is spread across other travel products such as Activities, Car Hire, Flights and Holidays. The data showcases that consumers do not exhibit the same patterns in how they start and finish their travel purchase journey.

Microsoft internal data. Multi-touch click attribution. N = 1000 users. PC and multi-line users only. U.K. September 2020-February 2021.

An additional complexity is the split that domestic and international considerations have on the consumer decision journey. The industry has accepted that domestic travel has been a large part of the U.K.’s recovery, partly due to the ever-changing requirements of international travel and outbreak management. In August, approximately 75% of travel searches were to domestic locations. This has improved over time, however, it’s important to note that in what is considered the ”peak season” of travel, there has still been an over-indexing towards local holidays in comparison to international ones.

Domestic vs. international search queries by travel category

Vertical bar chart showing the split between domestic and international queries across major travel categories. Searches are over 75%25 domestic with the exceptions of Villas (93%25 international), Resorts (70%25 international), Car Rentals (60%25 international), Flights (45%25 international), Hostels (38%25 international), and Vacation Packages (37%25 international).

Microsoft internal data, travel vertical clicks categorised by destination intent, U.K., August 2021.

For international package holiday providers, the constantly changing government-imposed travel restrictions created spiked consumer demand which were often short-lived. Short-term account management and behaviour remains essential to stay on top of the frequent government announcements and press articles influencing consumers. Through automation, the most successful companies can achieve high volumes of bookings during these periods.

U.K. online tour operator click demand over time

Vertical bar chart time series showing online tour operator-related click demand in the U.K. spikes in July 2021 and May 2021.

Microsoft internal data, online tour operator-related click demand, U.K., August 2021.

 

Air Travel has particularly had the most delayed return to growth with consumer demand finally breaking a stalemate in July onwards. With a combination of consumer demand and more routes available, airlines have begun to prosper after a long, difficult period.

U.K. air travel click demand over time

Vertical bar chart time series showing Air Travel-related query click demand increasing from June 2021 in the U.K.

Microsoft internal data, Air Travel-related query click demand, U.K., August 2021.

With all this said, where do U.K. travellers want to go?

Ever get that feeling you want to go to places you can’t? Based on search data, U.K. travellers are keen to get to U.S. destinations, with the country being the most searched in August. Whilst as of writing, the corridor hasn’t opened, so large U.K. demand for international travel to the United States is anticipated. You can also see that the destinations are leaning towards green/amber list countries. With some amber destinations above green destinations, perhaps amber is becoming the new green as consumers get used to the travel requirements. Whilst red countries are low on the list, they are still being searched for by consumers, showing that for some people, they are just waiting for their favourite destination to come back into amber/green.

Top 10 countries searched by U.K. travellers

Image of Microsoft Bing world map and a table of the top 10 countries by search volume, which shows the United States as the top-searched destination from the U.K., followed by Spain, Ireland, France, Greece, Malta, Cyprus, Portugal, Canada, and Croatia.

Microsoft internal data, destination searches on Microsoft Search and Partner Networks, U.K., August 2021.

What Microsoft Advertising travel products can advertisers use to be part of the travel industry recovery in the U.K.?

Hotel Price Ads and Dynamic Remarketing: Feed-based with high performance

Hotels are very much in the minds of consumers. Hotel Price Ads are now the norm and the prevalence of this format on the search results page has led to increased hotel stays for advertisers above regular paid search. The average cost per click (CPC) has also declined throughout the year, making the channel even more attractive for hotel companies. On top of this, existing hotel advertisers can now use their feed ads inside the Microsoft Audience Network native advertising product with Dynamic Remarketing to drive further profitable clicks.

Hotel Price Ads in Microsoft Bing search results page

Microsoft Hotel Price Ads showing feed-based offerings based upon user searches for location and date.

Multimedia Ads: A unique and rich format for search

Along with improvements that visual ads, such as native on the Microsoft Audience Network, bring to improving consideration and conversion rates, Microsoft Advertising has launched a new feature called Multimedia Ads. These are image-based ads which will sit with a high-impact presence on top of the search results page, a must for clients wanting to reach their audience and inspire them to become customers.

Multimedia Ad atop the Microsoft Bing search results page

Microsoft Multimedia Ads showing large image at the top of the search results page which advertisers can use to drive consumer awareness and action.

Automated bidding: Softening marketplace volatility and mitigating performance impacts

With the marketplace volatility experienced and that likely will persist, bidding has become a difficult task for marketeers. As a result, there’s been an increase in travel advertisers utilising Target Return on Ad Spend (tROAS) and Target Cost per Acquisition (tCPA) automated bidding capabilities. These are able to react to marketplace shifts, for the U.K. more specifically when the government makes travel advisory guidance or there is high press coverage on related topics, impacting their performance.

Decision tree for automated bidding strategies

Decision tree showing what auto-bidding strategy to use based upon what date you have available.

Resources

If you’d like to receive more of this information, have a question, or want to explore how Microsoft Advertising can help you navigate the travel landscape, please reach out to your account manager or sign up to learn more today. Never miss a beat with insights, thought leadership, product news, and tips and tricks automatically delivered to you weekly. Sign up for the Microsoft Advertising Insider newsletter.