SEM Tips for Travel and Hospitality Businesses

  |  September 13, 2010   |  Comments   |  

Many hotels use Google AdWords to drive bookings but few manage to use search strategically to provide the right information to potential customers at the right time.

Since the dawn of the Internet boom, the travel and hospitality industry has been a pioneer in exploring the potential of using online as a direct sales channel. According to eMarketer , up to 59 percent of total travel revenue for U.S. will come from online channels in 2010, while Europe and Asia Pacific will reach 43 percent and 21 percent respectively. It is not surprising that even the search engine giant, Google, is looking for additional ways to explore business opportunities with the industry with the recent deal to purchase ITA for US$700 million.

Many hotels have been using Google AdWords as a channel to drive direct online bookings via their own websites. However, only few of them have managed to use search strategically to provide the right information to their potential customers at the right time.

1. Think Beyond Room Reservations

a. Direct room reservation is the key revenue stream for most of our hotel clients. However, if hotels can strategically make use of search to promote their food & beverage (F&B) and spa facilities, they will be able to drive incremental revenue in a very cost effective manner. Since most of the target audience will be local, hotels should create a separate local campaign in their Google AdWords account. Search volume for restaurant related keywords tends to be high locally, if you simply create a few food & beverage ad groups in your room reservation campaign, you run the risk of depleting your daily budget quickly and will in turn seriously affect your entire campaign's return on investment.

2. Make Use of Ad Extensions

Google AdWords has made its ad extension features available to all advertisers since the beginning of this year. If an advertiser's Quality Score (define) is high enough to meet Google AdWords requirements, four additional site links will be displayed under the regular ad text. With the Google AdWords site links, each of the four highlighted promotional links will just be one click away, thus shortening the click path to conversion. This allows hotels to highlight any seasonal or thematic promotions that they have by essentially creating five destination URLs for each keyword ad! We have seen an increase in conversions ranging from 20 percent to 60 percent for our hotel clients.

a. Google AdWords location extension allows advertisers to strategically link its Google AdWords with its Google Places account together, or put its property addresses and phone numbers in its Google AdWords campaign. This has become increasing important because of the increase in local searches, such as people looking for restaurants. The likelihood of getting a conversion is increased if a hotel restaurant address is clearly shown on the ad, with just a click away to display its location on Google maps. This keeps the user highly engaged and without a need to perform additional searches to find out its location.

b. Google AdWords click-to-call phone extension has proven to be very popular for many restaurants running local search campaigns to drive phone bookings. When a user performs a Google search on a smartphone, instead of clicking on an ad that takes them to an advertiser's website, the click-to-call feature connects the searcher directly to the phone number associated with the ad. Since most people do not make restaurant reservations by completing an online form, this feature has been very successful in dramatically increasing our hotel client's F&B reservations.

3. Control Your Brand Presence

a. Hotels are always in a love-hate relationship with online travel agents. On one hand, they would need to rely on online travel agents to increase their distribution channels online. On the other hand, they would rather land a booking directly on their own website to avoid paying a commission to online travel agents. In an attempt to drive direct online bookings, many hotels have the 'best rate guarantee' policy on their websites, to provide an ease of mind to their potential customers that they are not getting a lesser deal if they make their reservation on the hotel website directly. However, many online travel agents will tend to bid on hotel's brand name, which is usually the last search term right before a conversion. Google AdWords still has varying levels of trademark policies available to protect their advertisers. Therefore, hotels should continue to file a Google trademark complaint to prevent online travel agents from bidding on the trademarked brand terms (if applicable) to increase the likelihood of a direct online conversion.

Google has also been testing many new features on its existing ad platforms for the travel and hospitality industry, such as integrating price comparison features on the Google maps results. It will be interesting to see what new advertising mechanisms Google will develop to monetise the travel related searches online.

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Antony Yiu

Previously serving as the Managing Director for iProspect Hong Kong and Key Clients, iProspect Asia Pacific, Antony's search experience includes Google and Internet start-ups in the U.S. His experience spans a variety of functions including search engine marketing and optimization, digital media buying and planning, email campaign management, and market research in both academic and commercial settings. Antony began his digital career while working for Google in its Mountain View headquarters, before moving to a number of startups including oDesk and AdBrite. Antony has a wealth of experience working with multinational companies in finance, travel and hospitality, cosmetics, B2B, consumer electronics, and luxury fashion clients throughout his career. He’s recognized as a leading expert in the field of search and is frequently quoted in the media regarding digital and search engine development in Asia Pacific. Antony is also a frequent speaker at industry conferences around the region. Connect with Antony on Google+ or email

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