The travel industry's relationship with Google is complicated. CEOs of the largest companies have been highly critical of their practices, with many filing anti-trust lawsuits.  

When Google entered the accommodation booking space, it became very clear they’d used the data they gathered directly from these companies to optimise their own booking engine.  And they have access to a colossal amount of data. Any site that uses Google’s geocoder or map is sending Google every single search location from their users.

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    Google’s terms and conditions say:

    Google collects and receives data from Customer and End Users (and End Users’ End Users, if any), including search terms, IP addresses, and latitude/longitude coordinates. 

    To protect themselves, many travel companies tried to shift away from all Google products where possible – but it’s not easy. In fact, in 2020 Expedia created a strategy to reduce their reliance on Google ads but went back on this in 2021. Others swapped to other mapping providers like Bing and Mapbox.  

    However, these sites continue to send significant traffic to Google. Every time they lose a user to Google, they’re back to square one and they have to spend more money on ads to entice that user back – it’s a vicious circle.  The more traffic travel sites push to google, the higher their customer acquisition costs. Here’s a breakdown of which sites are leaking users to Google:

    Why does this matter? 

    1. Sharing user data with a competitor: Google was originally a source of inbound traffic for these travel websites. Now it's a direct competitor because they now offer their own hotel search functionality. These companies would never want to share their internal user insights with other competitors, yet they still readily send this to Google. If they're using any of Google's mapping APIs, Google will know exactly what users are searching for and at what volumes. By sharing their internal data in this way with a competitor, travel websites are helping Google improve their own search engine and putting their own vertical search engines at a disadvantage.

    2. Raising customer acquisition costs: Travel companies spend millions on acquiring users via paid ads. Every time that a user bounces from their site back to Google, it requires further ad spend from the travel company to bring that user back. In the best case, this will drive up customer acquisition cost because they're having to double ad spend to convert a user to a customer. In the worst case, they're warming up a user on their site to make a buyer decision, only for the user to bounce back to Google, then select one of their competitors' sites to convert on - this leads to a huge waste in ad spend without gaining any revenue from the user.

    What can they do to minimise traffic to Google?
    • Swap Google map for another provider – our tiles are included free with our paid API plans and we have a promise we will not collect any user data
    • Provide travel times from accommodation to nearby attractions to avoid users needing to do their own research on Google – you can calculate millions of travel times in the blink of an eye with the TravelTime API – try it free here

    Methodology

    We used insights from similarweb.com’s outgoing traffic report. It estimates the total volume of all outbound traffic for each site and breaks down each domain that the site sends outbound traffic to. Explore more here.

    We also stripped out traffic to Google sites that allow users to sign into their accounts, mail or calendar as these sites won’t impact the user’s booking journey. We didn’t include aggregator sites like Trivago, Kayak and Tripadvisor because they send the bulk of their traffic to third party booking sites.

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