Facebook vs Google – Where should Travel Marketers spend their Advertising Dollars?

7 minute read


Amid the big debate on Google Ads Vs Facebook Ads, deciding how to diversify your advertising spends between these two platforms can be challenging for travel marketers. Both the platforms are tightening the noose and getting better by the day at being more relevant to both travel marketers and travelers.

On one hand, we have Google fielding over 3.5 million search queries every single day allowing marketers to access massive audience looking for goods and services. And on the other hand, there is Facebook which has 2.27 billion Monthly Active Users, which constitutes one-fifth of world’s population.

To understand which platform can give better ROI for your travel brand, let’s first clear a few fundamentals. Google Ads are divided into two broad categories – Search ads and Display Ads – used by marketers to achieve their conversion-driven and brand-awareness goals, respectively.

The search network targets users who type in their queries in Google search engine, while Google Display network is more of a passive advertising medium which uses 98% of World Wide Web to display visual ads on the websites or blogs users read or skim through every day.

However, Facebook Ads mainly thrive on the user’s social behavior and are constantly adapting to changing consumer behavior and patterns. The biggest strength of Facebook lies in the potential granularity with which advertisers can target their users. From sharing their marital or relationship status to their shopping or travel interests, people share a huge part of their life on Facebook, which helps advertisers understand customer behavior, especially buying interests.

For example, if a customer posts his or her travel pictures in different countries then Facebook knows that you are an international traveler and will show you travel ads accordingly.

Also, people show interest or consume content that aligns with their beliefs, values and personal interest allowing marketers to create personalized ad messages which were previously impossible and unheard of.

Google’s Foothold in Travel

Google has made several attempts to make a stronger foothold in the travel industry. It came up with chain loyalty rates for hotel ads which show special rates for customers who enrolled in a hotel’s loyalty programs. To get a competitive edge, these special rates are displayed in the same window as OTA rates.

Google also introduced mobile interface changes, as more travelers prefer using smartphones when searching for travel products as per Skift’s 2017 transformation Report.

There is another Google tool that displays hotel prices 90 days out, helping travelers plan their trips early at competitive rates. The search giant also rolled out a unique feature that shows geo-relevant hotels to travelers within their preferred brands such as Hyatt hotels in Frankfurt.

Source: Google

Facebook’s Big Strides in the Travel

Facebook Trip Consideration TravelCarma

Facebook and Instagram are considered to be the best platforms for travelers to get travel ideas and motivation. According to Colleen Coulter, industry manager for travel and global marketing solutions at Facebook, travelers have used more than 250 million hashtags on Instagram. People have started using the platform as a discovery engine.

Facebook’s new product “Trip Consideration” launched last year is meant to target people who have shown intent to travel by taking actions such as liking a company’s Facebook page but have not decided the destination. The tourism board of New York ran a campaign to test “trip consideration” and got 61% more views on videos and 58% more link clicks.

And how can we forget that travel was the first industry with which Facebook launched dynamic ads. After showing travelers trip consideration ads, travel brands can then use Facebook dynamic ads (launched in May 2016) about the destinations they show interest in. These ads feature compelling photos and videos which seem to appear naturally in people’s feed and not as an intrusive advertisement.

According to travel marketers, video ads, along with dynamic ads are more effective and engaging. According to the New Orleans Tourism Board, their carousel and video ads on Facebook reached 17.4 million people on Facebook and Instagram, which led to an 8X increase in intent to visit the destination.

According to Facebook, trip consideration gives them an edge as travelers are shown ads regarding the destinations that would like to plat a trip to, and without them having to tell Facebook anything in specific. Whereas in Google, users have to type search keywords like hotels in Paris, holiday packages in USA and so on.

Even though Facebook is a smaller channel as compared to Google when it comes to reach and number of searches per day, but it is gradually becoming more compelling and relevant to travelers at multiple stages of the funnel.

Growing Competition from Google

The CEO of Expedia describes Google as their biggest competition as well as partner, as thousands of travel brands are fighting to appear at the top search results. According to a report from Booking Holdings, the way travel search results appear in Google searches, including Google’s own offerings at the top and bidding for keywords for ad placement in search results, it becomes challenging to generate traffic to our website.

With over 40,000 search queries every second, more than 3 billion per day and a little over a trillion every year, Google opens up a world of opportunities for travel brands to appear in the Google top search result.

Google shows not only relevant ads but also shows relevant results based on your location. These ads will only appear when a user search for a keyword travel marketers bid for. The ads with the highest bid and most relevant content top the Google search result.

Considering the massive traffic volume on Google for travel brands, Expedia’s CEO says he would not suggest brands to move their entire marketing budget to a social platform like Facebook. Google has a stronghold over the search market, and you have got to appear for searches to drive profitable bookings.

And when we talk about Google, we can’t forget to mention YouTube, which according to Alexa is the second most visited website. With 1.9 billion logged-in users visiting YouTube every month, YouTube Video Advertising is a great opportunity for travel brands to create awareness and turn the “lookers into bookers”.

According to Google, “88% of YouTube travel-related searches focus on destinations, attractions, points of interest or general travel ideas”. And 70% of these YouTube video views are happening on mobile. According to YouTube data, travelers are turning to YouTube for travel and adventure inspiration, and travel related content is up 118% YOY.

Travel brands can create excitement among these viewers through online video ads. Brands like booking.com are making the best use of YouTube by creating a series of local guides about popular destinations. Also, Booking.com has also seen success with a boost of 31% in referral traffic from YouTube. Other popular travel brands that are making the best use of YouTube as advertising channel are Airbnb, Croatia Tourism and Turkish Airline. Airbnb’s ad campaign went global to promote the idea of open-mindedness. So if you as a travel brand have not added YouTube in your marketing arsenal, you are missing out.

How to decide which is the best performing platform for your brand

The Drum reported in June this year, the online travel and leisure website Lastminute.com moved a significant chunk of their digital spend to Facebook after testing the effectiveness of both the platform for 3 months. There were two major reasons for such a bold shift – first, Facebook allowed them to optimize their ads and second its automated ad creation tools allow them to create hundreds of different iterations.

This move is considered controversial as Google is viewed as the best direct response channel for travel brands, and travel giants like Booking Holdings spend 80% of their media budget on Google Ads.

Before travel brands make any big move related to their media spends, they need to take these two important things into consideration. First, Google’s growing ambition and technology advancements in travel space and how you can leverage that to compete in Google searches.

Secondly, experimentation and comparison of paid Google and paid social ads to know what drives better performance. The Drum reported the primary reason Last Minute made such shift was “A 20% increase in Facebook spends delivered a 200% increase in traffic to its site”. Looking at lastminute.com’s success, travel brands certainly need to give Facebook ads a fair chance.

Considering Google’s overall ambition in travel sector, including its new feature that integrates flight and hotel recommendation on smartphones in a way that was never done before, it’s recommended that diversifying digital budgets across different platforms would be a safe bet to ensure that you are not among the travel brands Google puts out of business.


TravelCarma Travel Technology Solutions

About the Author

Ratna is a communication and content marketing expert with seven years of experience in catering B2B and B2C markets. She has a penchant for cutting edge technologies, especially Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, and has extensive experience in SaaS marketing. When she is off her desk, she is either traveling or exploring great places to eat. She truly believes in the power of reading and aspires to be a life coach by helping people build confidence through the power of communication.

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