How has travel search changed during lockdown?

Travel was one of the sectors most deeply affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdowns which were put in place around the world earlier this year.

For example, the average number of commercial flights per day fell from more than 100,000 in January 2020 to 29,400 in April.

Flight related searches also dropped dramatically. Kayak stats show flight searches down by 70-80% year on year in March and April.

Flight related searches dramatically trends

As lockdown began to ease around June onwards, interest in travel has begun to pick up, but for now at least, it’s a changed landscape.

Our new travel trends during lockdown report looks into this new situation, and how customer preferences and search behaviour have changed.

Travel market recovery in July

Survey data found that 24.7% of people were eager to get away post-lockdown, saying they wanted to travel again as soon as it was permitted.

This interest is reflected in search trends, with Pi’s Market Intelligence data showing interest recovering from May onwards, before rising more sharply in June.

Category overview | Travel trends over time | Google UK
Travel trends landscape
All of the data featured in this blog post was taken from our travel trends 2020 report, download the report for more information.

Searches for ‘holidays’ grew by 149% from May to July 2020, while ‘flight’ terms grew by 106%

While search interest has picked up though, it’s still well below the overall volumes seen in the previous two years as concerns about the virus and changing government guidelines have dampened interest for many.

Travel trends during lockdown report

Download now

Staycation travel trends

Anyone who has tried to book accommodation in Northumberland or other popular UK spots will know that demand for ‘staycations’ has been much higher this year.

A Citysuites survey found that almost 25% would prefer to holiday at home until a coronavirus vaccine becomes available. This attitude, combined with changing rules on permitted destinations and quarantine requirements, means that holidays in the UK were more popular than they have been for a long time.

Holidays category | Travel trends over time | Google UK
Travel trends - Holiday travel trends over time
All of the data featured in this blog post was taken from our travel trends 2020 report, download the report for more information.
Searches for UK holidays are normally well below those for trips to Europe and elsewhere, but this year they peaked higher than for any other destination in July 2020.

There were 4.17m UK holiday searches in July, which is 68% higher than for July 2019, with UK searches growing 761% post-lockdown.

The fastest growing search terms all reflect this trend. The term ‘staycation’ grew 511% year on year, while searches for key destinations such as Northumberland, Peak District and Norfolk all grew by more than 200%.

Highest growth | Search volume | Google UK
most searched terms

The ‘people also ask’ terms suggest that staycations were new for some, with questions around what it means, and even what to do on a staycation.

people also ask staycations

The presentation of search results changed as Google adapted to changing user behaviour. Using Pi’s SEO Platform we can see Text ads and top stories started to appear on search results, along with answer boxes.

Changing SERPs for ‘Staycations’
changing SERPs staycation
All of the data featured in this blog post was taken from our travel trends 2020 report, download the report for more information.

For specific destination searches, owners of hotels and holiday homes who’d considered local SEO and had taken care to keep their Google My Business profiles up to date were most visible on the search engine when search volumes increased.

Google map whitby holidays

Travel trends during lockdown report

Download now

Who dominates the travel SERPs?

For terms around holidays, TUI was the dominant website in August 2020, perhaps helped by the demise of major rival Thomas Cook (since reborn as an online only travel agent) last year.

TUI was dominant for holiday searches around foreign destinations though, with a far smaller share of voice for UK holidays.

Holidays category | Share of Voice | Google UK
top performers
All of the data featured in this blog post was taken from our travel trends 2020 report, download the report for more information.

In a year when staycations were the key travel search trend, sites such as lastminute.com, hoseasons.co.uk and forestholidays.co.uk had a greater share of voice.

Customer uncertainty reflected in search trends

While some customers are happy to travel, there are more questions and concerns around travel than ever before.
Government travel advice in the UK has been subject to rapid change frequently without warning. Recent changes to quarantine advice threw many travel plans into chaos, and made reliable travel planning very difficult.

Safety concerns have also come to the fore, with people understandably concerned about whether it’s safe to travel at the moment.

Google’s ‘people also ask’ feature reflects this, with questions around safety for specific destinations, and about whether it’s possible to travel there.

People also ask - Turkey

Google data shows trending searches around terms like ‘travel advice’. The data also shows similar travel trends for terms around refunds and cancellations.

Travel advice

These searches reflect the fact that potential travel customers are clearly looking for reassurance before booking flights and holidays.

Travel operators need to respond by providing clear information for customers. For example, they can inform customers about safety and hygiene measures taken to protect customers on flights, or to reassure them that bookings can be refunded or amended if circumstances change.

These concerns are front of mind for customers, so they should be able to find key information quickly. TUI, for example, has site wide messaging linking to its ‘Travel with confidence’ hub.

Tui - image 1

Within this hub, and during the research and booking process, TUI has provided details of what to expect, its social distancing measures, and increased flexibility for changing circumstances.

tui - image 2

It’s vital that, once people have found a site through search, key information is provided for customers to book with confidence, which in turn helps travel sites to increase conversions from search traffic.

In Summary

This is clearly an unusual time for the travel industry, and it can be hard to plan precisely for the near future.

We may be over the worst of the restrictions caused by the pandemic, but there’s still enough uncertainty to harm customer confidence and to disrupt future travel plans.

Travel providers are best advised to focus their SEO efforts on boosting share of voice for terms around popular short-haul destinations and UK holidays until travel restrictions are lifted.

It’s also very important to provide useful content that informs and reassures customers about safety, and guarantees that customers won’t be wasting their money if their travel plans are disrupted by restrictions.

We could even be close to increased travel demand in the event that the pandemic comes under control, as people rush to take a long awaited holiday.

Whatever the outcome, learning about customer search behavior, understating their concerns, and optimising for key travel search trends can give you the edge over your competitors.

All of the data featured in this blog post was taken from our travel trends 2020 report, download the report for more information.

Travel trends during lockdown report

Download now