Booking Holdings: Travel SEO and SEM Travel | In Practise

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Booking Holdings: Travel SEO and SEM Travel

Former Manager of Account at Google and Current VP, Performance at GetYourGuide

Why is this interview interesting?

  • How digital marketing budgets are changing during coronavirus pandemic
  • Evolution of buying ads on Google
  • How the Google auction functions and importance of Adrank and quality score
  • How to run AB tests for digital ads
  • The role of Google Travel in the industry
  • How are the best in the industry at SEM

Executive Bio

Wouter Blok

Former Manager of Account at Google and Current VP, Performance at GetYourGuide

Wouter is the Current VP of Performance Marketing at GetYourGuide, the leading global tours and activities marketplace, and a performance marketing veteran. In 2012, Wouter joined Google Travel to manage the account where he was working directly with the OTA to optimise spend on Google properties. He started his career in 2005 during the infancy of SEO and SEM before joining online hotel agency Easytobook as CMO in 2008 and has worked in various other digital marketing roles at Sprint, Go Bear, and Cool Blue.Read more

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Interview Transcript

Wouter, can you share exactly what you’re seeing, from a marketing perspective, in travel, today?

I work for a travel company that focuses, predominantly, on the European market and the American market. For us, it hit China first, and we only saw a really small drop in our complete business, because our business in China is not that big. But when northern Italy had arrived and there were lockdowns seen in Venice, Florence and Milan, it was apparent that this was going to be huge. If you can imagine, for tourism, those are three huge cities. But also, Italy, as an origin market, where people come from who then book trips with us, it’s huge.

So then we knew we had to brace ourselves for the worst to come. If all of our markets go into lockdown, you don’t have any business anymore. Then we knew that we had to make a good plan.

Have you seen marketing CPMs decline massively? How have you seen the landscape evolve?

Yes, but that was only later. At first, when you see demand decline or, actually, when you see certain areas close down, you’re faced with cancellations. The first thing that happens is, the revenue that you made on bookings, you have to do the right thing and give that back to the travelers. All of the campaigns that you ran in the past, that were hitting your ROI targets, now suddenly, you are not hitting your ROI targets, you have to pay out to all of those people and, at the same time, you have campaigns out there, that market towards people that are looking for trip, that don’t know yet that it’s closed. You have to act fast, on all of those campaigns, making sure that you take into account the new cancellation rate that is, most probably, going to be in effect on those campaigns that you have.

That meant that we were very fast to turn down all of our marketing spend. I think, the first one in the market, outside the ones in the Asian markets. Later on, we saw our competition following, but that was weeks later. Only when the whole market goes down like that, then you see CPMs and CPCs decline. That was the time when we were working on the communication plan. What do you communicate to your travelers? We need to communicate that we are here, for them. We’re here, for you and we want to make sure that you get back home safely, that you get your money back. We didn’t want to work with vouchers or anything like that, because you don’t know when people can travel again. You don’t know what will hit them, economically, financially, so you want to make sure they get their money back. But as a company, also, we had to prepare well, to preserve our own cash, because you don’t know how long this is going to take.

That means that you can do some scenario planning and we had several scenarios, ranging from a quarter to three quarters, that we will not see any travel. We worked with the most severe case and then planned our company cash-wise on, how can we make sure that with scenario, we still don’t have to fire people, because we want to keep the good team together. How can we make sure that we are ready for the upswing, when it comes? How can we make sure that we have enough cash runway, not to go back to the financial markets, in the coming couple of years, because this will land us into a recession and this will make travel one of the least interesting verticals to invest in, for VC? So that’s what we’ve been planning, for the last month.

This plan is in effect right now, and that means that, if you look at performance marketing, there is no demand in the market anymore. No one is looking for a trip that they want to book right now. They are preserving cash themselves. This means that it’s really easy not to spend anything, at this current moment. We’re working on our communication strategy towards travelers, towards people at home, predominantly, so future travelers and the world is at home. So what can you do from your home, with your kids, with your family, if you’re bored. We’ve created all of these tours and activities that you can enjoy from your home. For example, a virtual tour of the Sistine Chapel; a virtual cooking class with chefs from Florence; a Harry Potter quiz, for people that are fond of Harry Potter and want to do that tour, one day, in London. Even fun drawings that you can print out, for the kids to color in. That’s the things we are doing right now, to enable people that can’t go anywhere, to still enjoy themselves and be in touch with our brand.

You’ve changed the product slightly, to adapt to this landscape we’re in, to market a new experience to the consumers?

I wouldn’t say changed the product, because we still firmly believe that people will go back to travelling. Changing the product completely, for this temporary situation, is tough.

Did you offer the virtual tours before?

Yes. We already had some virtual tours on our platform. We are now adding suppliers that can offer it, as well. Our product remains the same, but the suppliers that have virtual tours, we’re welcoming them, right now. What I was talking about was more the branding material that we bring out on our social channels, to interact with our customers.

When you saw these cancellations and the lockdown in Italy and more news come through and, therefore, you return the revenue, your ROI on spend probably has to increase massively, because you’re baking in that cancellation rate to your performance marketing calculation?

Absolutely right. We doubled our ROAS targets. Our returned ad spend target had to be doubled because of that.

How do you think OTAs and travel players will start bringing marketing spend back to the market, when demand returns?

When preparing for an upswing, what we’re doing right now, is focusing heavily on engineering and product, to make sure that our product is even better, when we return. Think about planning tools, think about lower conversion funnel. This is one of the rare moments that you can actually do a lot of work there, because you are not hindered by the daily pressure of performance. We can now spend a lot of time on making sure that the foundations are right. We are also tapping into a lot of different data sources, from Google, from other metasearchers, like Trivago, to make sure we understand what the customer behavior in travel is, outside our own industry.

We are the tours and activity vertical, which is the second largest vertical in travel. You have hotels and you have flights. We’re also looking at data from flights and from hotels, from around the world. Where are people coming from that are searching right now? Where are they looking for? What date ranges are they looking for? This year on year trend, we can use to see where we see a potential uptick and is it domestic or international?

We’ve seen that, now in China, slowly we are coming out of the dip and the recovery will take, probably, four or five more months. But as you might have heard yesterday, China is looking at increase in cases again, so they might go into a second wave, which will make it last even longer until it fully returns. Our expectation is that this will take at least two quarters of zero travel and then Q4 will see a slight uptick, but travel will be different. People will travel closer to home, will make less use of airplanes, but more use of their own transportation. We expect, and we’re planning for, more of a staycation or explore your backyard kind of campaign, for when travel resumes.

So you think it’s actually going to last more into 2021, when we’re going to see even depressed levels of travel through that year, as well, given the time it will take to ramp up?

Yes. We think it will take well into 2021, for us to be at the 2019 levels again, unless the world goes into a depression and we see 10%, 20% decline in the economy, then it will an even slower pace.

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Booking Holdings: Travel SEO and SEM Travel

April 13, 2020

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