Even though hotel brands have gone all in on direct booking campaigns, online travel sites like Booking.com and Hotels.com continue to dominate paid search advertising, according to media research firm Kantar.
Between Jan. 1 and Feb. 11, Kantar analyzed over 1,600 lodging-related Google search keywords like “las vegas hotels” and “nyc hotels” across desktop and mobile. Of the searched keywords, more than 75% of all ad clicks belonged to online travel agencies (OTAs) and metasearch engines, sites that often operate as the middlemen between hotels with vacant rooms and consumers looking for a deal.
While Kantar’s data doesn’t include conversion rates—consumers who clicked on an ad and actually booked a hotel room—it does provide a window into what companies are (and aren’t) spending on paid search.
“Who comes up in the search engine matters—who shows up, who gets the most clicks. There’s a finite amount of real estate on the search results page,” said Jim Leichenko, a marketing director at Kantar who conducted the research. “What you’re seeing is that the OTAs are really capturing a significant amount. …[Hotels] are well aware they are in an uphill battle against online travel agencies on the paid search side.”
Across Google’s desktop search, seven of the top 10 most-clicked advertisers were online travel agencies. Hotels.com earned 19.3% of clicks, followed by Expedia with 16.7% and Kayak with 13.6%.
On mobile, Booking.com received 19.8% of clicks.
Of hotel brands, only Marriott broke into the top five across both mobile and desktop searches, though with a meager 4.4% share. Airbnb, unique in that it doesn’t own any rooms like an OTA but partners with any hotels, ranked sixth in both mobile and desktop click share.
In 2019, the travel industry spent about $16 billion on advertising with Google, according to Skift Research. While paid search spending figures are unknown, on OTAs and metasearch engines routinely spend more for traditional advertising.
Expedia Inc., which owns Expedia, Trivago and Hotels.com, alone spends as much as Hilton and Marriott combined.
However, paid search keywords might not matter to legacy brands like Marriott, the world’s largest hotel chain, and Hilton, which are already established and have name recognition. (And, of course, OTAs wouldn’t exist without them.)