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Travel searches take off: 4 Travel advertiser tips to use now

Undoubtedly, 2020 was a hard year for the travel industry. For those who were used to jet-setting, traveling for work, or taking the long-awaited seasonal vacation, 2020 meant having to stand still and dream about traveling. While many grew a bit restless, there is reason to be optimistic! Now that vaccines are on the rise and communities are beginning to reopen safely, we’re seeing a surge in travel interest and searches.

As we’ve seen across many industries, the way consumers are thinking and behaving has changed over the past year and will likely impact the types of vacations people plan. Those changes are showing up in our search data, as well as through our own research. In our 2021 Consumer Trends Report we learned that “[w]hen the flood gates open and everyone can go back to traveling, consumers are excited to experience the trips they have been dreaming of, while being conflicted over responsibility and sustainability.”

What impact has COVID-19 had on the travel industry, and what will 2021 travel look like? What trends will persist beyond the pandemic, and what will these trends mean for advertisers?

Vacationers are looking to take nostalgia trips

As vaccination rates increase, workplaces reopen, and restrictions begin to loosen, we’re beginning to see a growth in travel and vacation searches. Does this mean that vacationing will start to transition back to normal? We can’t wait for our annual summer vacations to look like they did in past years (prior to the pandemic).

There’s still a lingering hesitancy in planning these trips. In a recent survey we conducted, 48% of travelers considered safety and safety regulations as top factors that defined their vacation planning. That’s why when we look at reasons for upcoming travel, many are going to revisit places they know and love, and reconnect with loved ones because they’re all presumably safer choices. The 2021 Consumer Trends Report highlights this trend: “Uncertainty during the pandemic left people searching for comfort in the things that they knew. This includes searching for and planning future vacations to places they have already been and now dream of going back to. These nostalgia trips are something that will continue to grow in 2021 as consumers slowly ease back into travel.”

Travel advertiser tip #1:

Incorporate keywords related to vacation goals (such as “safety,” “wellness,” etc.) in your campaigns to showcase not only your service or product, but that you also understand your customers' needs and intent as they begin to plan and book travel again.

Bar graph illustrating reasons people take a vacation. 45% say visiting a place that I know and love. 42% say reconnecting with friends or family. 38% say mental health break. 32% say experiencing a new place that I have never been. 22% say experiencing new foods and dining experiences. 16% say exploring a new area for relocation. 15% say checking off a bucket list item. 14% say revisiting a place that I went as a child. Source: Microsoft Advertising survey, April 2021.
Source: Microsoft Advertising survey, April 2021.

The not-so-risky summer vacation

While Americans are excited to travel again, they’re just dipping their toes in on their first trip. As a result, beach vacations and road trips are the top two vacations people are planning this summer. We’re seeing this in our search data as well: Myrtle Beach, Virginia Beach, and Miami Beach are hot destinations, each receiving 400%+ increases in search volume compared to 2020. With these vacations centered around outdoor activities, it’s no surprise that 39% of respondents are prioritizing outdoor activities available in a location (such as camping, hiking, and swimming) as a top consideration.

The pent-up travel energy will mostly be channeled into vacations by car — not quite the staycations people have been doing, nor the long-distance international trips many are craving. In fact, one third of travelers are planning to vacation between 100 and 500 miles from home.

Travel advertiser tip #2:

Take advantage of our In-market Audiences, so you can easily grow your audience with high-quality searchers who are planning on traveling in upcoming months. Read about how Alaska Airlines used audience targeting to boost their campaign success.

An extra year to save means there is more money to spend

Unsurprisingly, 75% of survey respondents had to cancel a vacation due to COVID-19 and 64% of people are currently planning a vacation that was previously cancelled due to the pandemic. This means these vacations have been in the works for months: 44% of all vacationers have spent at least 6 months saving; 11% over a full year. With the ability to travel soon, we’re seeing vacationers anticipate spending more this time compared to their typical vacation budgets. Since consumers are ready to spend (even more than usual!) on travel, it is more crucial than ever to get in front of them during the consideration process.

In the planning phase, vacationers are searching across many different travel categories including hotels, activities, and more. In fact, in a recent analysis we saw that 63% of U.S. travelers considered multiple lines of business in their planning. Across all phases of the consumer decision journey, hotel and accommodation searches accounted for the largest share of page views.

Travel advertiser tip #3:

Convert 'lookers into bookers' today with our travel ad formatsTours and Activities ads, Hotel Ads, and Property Promotion Ads — to reach travelers who may be ready to book.

Reach dreamers before it’s too late

How will this increased travel interest translate into search behavior in the near future? We predict that from now through the end of May, booking services, luxury travel, and tour operators will see a sharp increase in search volume, and that there will be modest increases seen in accommodations, air travel, cruises, and tourist attractions and destinations. Travel clicks are also increasing drastically as we approach summer in the Northern Hemisphere. With dreamed-of trips becoming a reality in 2021, vacationers will be booking, and we’re expecting to see a rebound in domestic travel. It’s time for travel advertisers who were dormant during the pandemic to start their campaigns and reach eager customers before they’ve made final booking decisions. Capitalize on the increasing travel interest to help your business recover from a tough year.

Line graph depicting clicks on travel ads over time. From April 2020 to April 2021, travel clicks have increased over time. Source: Microsoft Advertising internal data, April 2020-April 2021.

Travel advertiser tip #4:

Leverage Dynamic Search Ads and broad match to get in front of searchers as they’re dreaming of and planning new trips and rescheduling canceled vacations.


If you love insights, we have a lot more coming in 2021! Sign up for the weekly Microsoft Advertising Insider newsletter to keep up to speed automatically with other vertical and seasonal analyses, tips and tricks, thought leadership, and product updates. Additionally, visit the Microsoft Advertising Insights content hub, where you can find new resources, like the 2021 Consumer Trends Report on a weekly basis.