The Definitive Guide to PPC Automation for the Travel Sector

Within the travel sector, there are dozens of factors that can affect whether or not somebody books a holiday with you.

These range from the most obvious reasons, such as the weather and foreign currency exchange rates, to the more obscure, including the customer’s disposable income and the availability on the day they want to travel.

To make matters more complicated, the intensity of each of these factors is constantly changing, hour to hour, day to day.

In 2020, to succeed in PPC within the travel industry, you need to be rapidly adapting to these changes in real time using search technology. If not, challengers will struggle to keep up with leading brands such as TUI and Hilton, who are already investing heavily into this type of technology.

Before we go any further, it’s important to define what we mean by ‘demand-based search technology’.

In its simplest sense, demand-based search technology refers to the changes that are made to Google Ads accounts in real time, through the use of software, to react to changes in demand.

For example, you may want to use software to automatically increase bids by 10% for searchers whose local weather is below 10°C – this would be a form of demand-based search technology.

Google Ads scripts (pieces of code pasted into the Bulk Operations section of your Google Ads account) are the simplest way to create customised programs that allow you to make changes in real time based on weather, flight delays, exchange rates and much more.

In the travel sector, this is likely to give you a significant advantage over your competitors who are not reacting to changes in weather, occupancy or foreign exchange rates, and are hence seeing performance fluctuate largely.

Demand-based search technology should provide you with considerably more control over your budget and conversion rate than your competitors, providing a higher return on investment and more consistency in your paid-search performance.

In this article, we look at six different types of demand-based search technology that allow you to make real-time changes based on the weather, exchange rates, time of day, day of the week, your availability and flight delays.

1) Weather bidding for international tourism

Travel companies advertising flights, hotels or resorts can adopt the strategy of segment-targeting an audience that is experiencing bad weather (such as cold temperatures, showers, snow or heavily overcast conditions).

For display or social campaigns, weather targeting works best when coupled with aspirational creative ads showing sunny, tropical visuals to enforce a yearning for warmth and sunshine.

This is an effective strategy, because demand for beach holidays can often increase during periods of bad weather.

For example, a study by Thomas Cook found that local weather impacts both Google search volume and online bookings for Mallorca holidays by as much as 14%.

Booking behaviour 

  • On days with continuous rain, Thomas Cook’s online bookings rise by 7%.
  • During sunny warm weather, online bookings drop by 8%.

Google Search behaviour

  • On days with continuous rain, search queries for holidays to Mallorca rise by 9% on average across all devices.
  • During sunny warm weather, search volume for holidays to Mallorca decreases by 14%.

WeatherAds.io ran a similar experiment to see if the temperature had a similar effect on search and booking behaviour. It tested the effect of daily temperature fluctuation on Google search volume, using the search term “cheap flights Ibiza”.

The graph below shows search volume for “cheap flights Ibiza” from London, throughout February 2016.

You can see a strong, inverse correlation between temperature and search volume. As the temperature dips, consumers start to plan their trips to Ibiza, and search volume rises.

Since the use of PPC, advertising in the travel sector has become highly competitive, as marketers are able to automate bidding rules based on real-time weather data, instantly giving them a huge advantage over the competition.

By using a tool like Google Ads scripts, advertisers can secure that coveted #1 position for their ads whenever demand and search volume increase due to bad weather.

Simply put, if you’re a weather-sensitive travel brand, weather-targeting your campaigns enables you to steal business from your competitors when it matters most, whilst at the same time gradually reducing your CPC (cost per conversion) and saving you valuable ad dollars in the long run.

2) Weather bidding for domestic tourism

For domestic tourism, the same logic applies – albeit on a slightly different tack.

There’s a strong link between good weather (both current and forecast) and heightened demand for domestic holidays and local day trips. Warm sunny weather is a boon for countryside retreats, camping sites, nature reserves and outdoor attractions, such as theme parks, music festivals and zoos.

The logic is simple – on warm, sunny days, consumers are more likely to be thinking about going outside.

Here’s Google’s take on it:

“Demand for certain products and services varies greatly depending on the weather. For example, users are much more likely to search for information on amusement parks on a hot, sunny day than if it’s cold and raining. An amusement park company may want to increase their bids when the weather is nice.”

WeatherAds.io decided to test this theory by seeing if New York-based searches for “Hamptons hotels” increased during periods of warm weather.

The graph above shows New York City-based search volume for “Hamptons hotels” over a two-week period in May 2016, overlaid against the average temperature for each day.

You can see that as the temperature increases, so does the number of searches for “Hamptons hotels”.

Of course, there are other factors aside from weather that impact search volume, such as days of the week. You can see from the graph that Wednesdays and Thursdays have relatively low search volumes, compared to the ‘bookend’ days (hence that dip in the blue line over 25th and 26th). Other factors, such as public holidays and various promotional offers, also have an impact.

However, when you strip these out, the data clearly suggests that local weather is a significant factor in driving consumer behaviour and purchase decisions when it comes to booking a staycation.

For domestic tourism marketers, a good strategy would be to trigger ads or increase bids based on real-time temperatures and sunshine.

You can also experiment with targeting consumers based on the forecast, and triggering ads or raising bids if good weather is expected. You can even trigger ads if the outlook for the coming weekend is sunny.

This particular approach would work well for businesses that get spikes in bookings in the run-up to the weekend – for example, theme parks and inner-city tourist attractions.

Ad copy can inform consumers that a sunny weekend is forecast, and encourage them to book their tickets in advance.

WeatherAds.io has provided data and content for this section. 

3) Foreign exchange rate bidding

Foreign exchange rates have a significant effect on the number of holidays that are booked, because it affects the affordability of the destination.

Following the Brexit vote and the subsequent fall in value of the pound against the dollar and euro, inbound travel to the UK is likely to increase, which advertisers should look to capitalise on.

This has the opposite effect on outbound travel from the UK to countries that use the dollar or the euro.

A study by the University of Oxford into the correlation between exchange rate and number of domestic hotel rooms booked showed a direct inverse correlation between the number of rooms booked and the affordability of the currency. Put simply, as the relative ‘price’ of the currency went up, the number of hotel rooms booked decreased.

This should be reflected in how you buy traffic within your paid media accounts. The most effective way to do this is to change bids within your account based on real-time exchange rate data.

This can be achieved by using a Google Ads script that pulls data from an exchange API, then has a set of rules to change bids based on this data.

For example, if you’re selling holidays to Europe to British travellers and the euro is currently strong against the pound, you may want to reduce bids slightly, because conversion rates are likely to be lowered as the cost of travel is high.

The opposite would be true if you were a luxury hotel in London, for example. The pound is currently weak against the euro and dollar, so if you are advertising to European and American tourists, you would look to increase bids, as the cost of travel is lower and therefore more people are likely to travel.

To help advertisers to bid based on forex rates, we have open-sourced our forex bidder Google Ads script for you to download and use.

4) 24-hour bidding schedule

In the travel industry, conversion rates vary considerably from hour to hour and day to day. Studies have shown that changing bids hourly increases conversion rates by up to 11%.

However, despite the clear advantage provided by changing bids hourly, Google Ads (and most other bid-management platforms, such as Kenshoo and Marin) only allow you to change your bids up to six times a day.

Therefore, in the travel sector, being more responsive than this is crucial to Google Ads success.

Using Google Ads scripts, you are able to change bids hourly, making you four times more responsive than your competitors, who are most likely using a bid-management tool such as Kenshoo or Marin, or simply the Google Ads interface.

The Google Ads script in question is a piece of code that sits within the Bulk Operations section of your Google Ads account.

You can then define the hourly bid modifiers within Google Sheets, as the example below shows, then the script runs hourly and implements these changes.

You can download the 24-hour bidder script from Search Engine Land.

5) Inventory-based bidding/ad pausing

The vast majority of travel providers work to what you would describe as a fixed inventory.

A plane only has so many seats (here, the seats are the inventory); hotels only have a fixed number of rooms; cruise ships only have a fixed number of cabins.

In these cases, the fixed cost of the inventory is already paid for, so maximising utilisation and filling up your tour, hotel or plane on a consistent basis is key to maximising profits.

In simple maths, once the overhead of the hotel or plane is covered, everything left over (excluding advertising costs) is your profit. So, in some cases, it makes sense to increase bids to fill up the remaining rooms above your current cost per booking, provided that this is lower than the cost of the room.

It may sound slightly surprising to hear a PPC agency saying that you should be increasing your cost per booking, as opposed to reducing it, but in this case, it would generate a larger amount of profit overall for the business, allowing you to solve larger business problems.

Like several other bidding methods that we’ve covered in this article, changing bids based on inventory can be done using an Google Ads script, with your current inventory being imported from your database or Google Sheets.

You may also want to consider using ‘out of stock’-style pausing for your travel company.

When we first started working with Mad Monkey Hostels, we saw that its cost per conversion spiked considerably when its hostels were full, resulting in a reduced return on ad spend.

We helped advise the company’s in-house developers to create a link between their PMS (property management system) and Google Ads to allow them to pause their ads when their hostels were full, which meant they would avoid these spikes in cost per conversion.

6) Flight delay-based ad triggering

Flight delay-based ad triggering allows you to pause and enable adverts based on flight delays. This works particularly well for hotels near airports, as it allows them to target stricken travellers who have an immediate need for lodging.

When Hilton enabled this technology to target people in New York who’d had their flights delayed, it saw its conversions increase by 21%.

This strategy works by creating campaigns that are targeted to a radius of a few miles from an airport, within which the hotel is located. These campaigns also target incident-specific keywords that use geo-specific targeting. For example, “Radisson Blu Hotel near Heathrow”, or “hotel near Heathrow”.

Using a customised Google Ads script that pulls out flight delay data, you can enable your campaigns in real time when flights are delayed. You could also consider increasing your bids for a few hours while flights are delayed, to maximise exposure of your adverts.

Love Google Ads scripts? Check out our post on 153 Google Ads scripts you can implement today to automate repetitive tasks!


About Wes

Wes is the Managing Director of DemandMore. He is columnist for several leading marketing publications including Campaign Magazine, Econsultancy and Search Engine Land where he shares his expertise in search marketing.