3 big ideas for 2018: Airbnb unstoppable, battle for TripAdvisor is over and new players start to reshape the industry

This is a viewpoint from Gitit Greenberg, director of digital insights at SimilarWeb.

In an industry as large and significant as travel, even minor changes to the digital hierarchy can have major ramifications. Yet, far more exciting are the type of major changes that can shake the foundations of the sector. SimilarWeb recently produced the annual analysis of the travel industry – Travel Trends & Insights Report for 2018 – and these are three of the biggest trends it identifies.

Airbnb will not stop rising

Not only is Airbnb redefining how people around the world travel, they are successfully challenging travel’s online giants with impressive speed. Over the last year, airbnb.com managed to pass booking.com in traffic ending the year with 5% more visits to the site annually. Even more impressive is that they were behind booking.com by 6% in March 2017 before finishing March 2018 20% ahead.

Beyond speaking to the growing power of the home and vacation rental space, it also emphasizes one of the core rules of growth – brand matters. While booking.com sees just over 41% of their traffic coming direct to the site, airbnb.com sees over 50%.

The brand lead is even more significant when breaking down organic search results. Not only did airbnb.com enjoy nearly double the visits from this channel over the last year – 87 million to 44 million – they saw over 92% of their search results coming from branded terms. This compared to under 38% for booking.com.

The analysis speaks to the uniquely impressive nature of Airbnb’s growth – it is driven primarily by a strong and effective brand. This has not only created a foundation for steady growth over time, but for an increasingly effective push on expanding internationally.


Booking and Expedia have won the battle for TripAdvisor traffic

In the same OTA and metasearch category where airbnb.com and booking.com jockeyed for position, the undisputed giant of travel still loomed large. Tripadvisor.com not only enjoyed over 26% traffic share for the top ten sites, but at almost 94 million visits, it was nearly double the closest competitor – expedia.com.

While the dominance of Tripadvisor is nothing new, the slowness of many brands – and especially those in the hotel sector – to take full advantage of this reality is, at first glance, surprising. Among the top ten websites receiving traffic from tripadvisor.com in the US, only the 9th and 10th were hotels – bestwestern.com and marriott.com respectively. This has led to a scenario where over a third of the outgoing links from tripadvisor.com ended up at expedia.com or booking.com.

From a glance, it would be fair to initially assume that this is an area of opportunity for hotel brands. However, this perspective ignores the elephant in the room that is the outsized impact of the Booking and Expedia groups  – and all of the assets that they own. The incredible strength of these operators has made tripadvisor.com traffic very hard to access for other players like hotel brands. While this status quo could change over time, a far likelier scenario is that those on the outside of tripadvisor.com’s core beneficiaries will look elsewhere.

New travel players will breathe life into hotel brands

And where will they look? While closing the gap with tripadvisor.com at the expense of major OTAs may be difficult, there are a range of new players in the travel market that could present similar opportunities. One of the most exciting trends from 2017 was the rise of new players in the travel market like Costco Travel. These players have found the travel market interesting enough to get involved with, but have yet to employ more expansive digital strategies making them ideal partners. What will define 2018 for many travel brands will be the ability to identify companies like these and create the processes necessary to create mutually benefitting relationships.

Instead of seeing new entrants into the mix as challengers, many travel companies have the unique ability to make this trend work in their favor. While the cost of these partnerships is still fairly high, these new players offer direct access to audiences who are more likely to trust the process because of their existing relationship. On the other side, because hotel brands sit on the actual inventory, they can leverage these complementary strengths to help support sales, not to mention the brand value they bring to the table. This type of symbiosis could create a significant avenue for growth for traditional travel players looking to up their digital presence.

This is a viewpoint from Gitit Greenberg, director of digital insights at SimilarWeb.

Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

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