Travel Forward: Automate for a smarter response to a volatile market, says Google

Travel Forward: Automate for a smarter response to a volatile market, says Google

Search engine’s industry head Finnbar Cornwall addressed WTM’s virtual technology conference this week

Search volumes on Google for holidays by country of destination have overtaken city breaks for the first time in a decade, WTM’s virtual technology conference was told this week.

Finnbar Cornwall, travel industry lead at the search engine, presented Google data showing how consumer demand had changed during the pandemic.

Searches for holiday cottages were also at their highest level for 10 years having seen a leap of 100% and there were declines in searches for cheap flights or train journeys.

Cornwall said Google users are more likely to be looking to travel on four wheels with search volumes for ‘car hire near me’ at its highest level for 15 years.

Google consumer surveys have found people preferring to holiday closer to home and while cost remained a factor at the start of the pandemic health and safety has risen to the top of concerns.

Cornwall said the sector faces huge challenges with projected losses of 60%, the hit on global GDP estimated at $5.5 trillion and 90% of travel marketeers said to be slashing budgets.

“We can see we are operating in a really challenging time,” he said. “At this point in time it’s so important to be assessing customer sentiment because it’s changing so quickly.”

Corwnall advised marketers to act quickly to recognise these shifts in behaviour and to monitor indicators that capture this change in demand.

And he said firms must accelerate their own digital transformation to build up long-term business resilience because consumers have migrated online and are using digital touch points.

“Do you have the right objectives in place? How are you capturing existing demand and presenting yourself better for when the market returns and have you got the right messages?”

Cornwall said consumers are highly sensitive to news announcements relating to travel and so firms must be looking for the signals that tell them demand is back.

“Talking to clients, one way they are responding is by capping budgets. I totally understand that. It feels like a very sensible response.

“I would encourage you to cap target bids by how much you want to pay for a customer to book with you.

“We are seeing sudden shifts in demand so the worse thing will be if all of a sudden customers want to buy your product but you can’t market to them because you have run out of budget.

“Work out how much you want to pay to get them to buy your product. We think that’s a much better way to balance your goals.”

Cornwall said machine learning should be used to automate marketing and allow firms to rapidly change tack based on consumer behaviour and ongoing news about the virus.

“The reality is you should be automating your digital marketing as much as possible to make smarter business decisions in real time at scale, particularly in this volatile market,” he said.