Online travel giants ramped up marketing spend in 2021

Marketing spend by the leading online travel companies rocketed in 2021, to coincide with the relaxation of travel restrictions in their core markets.

The amounts being splashed out on various forms of advertising activity are not at the same levels of 2019, understandably, but the tried and trusted methods are back in vogue.

Booking Holdings, operator of the Booking.com, Kayak, Agoda and Priceline brands, spent $ 3.8 billion on marketing during 2021, up from the $ 2.2 billion figure over the course of the pandemic-hit 2020.

The company revealed a record $ 4.98 billion had been used on its marketing strategy in 2019.

In the final quarter of 2021, traditionnally one of the quarter three-month periods in a calendar year, Booking Holdings spent some $ 974 million on marketing, a considerable jump from the $ 386 million in the corresponding quarter in 2020.

Its closest like-for-like competitor in the online travel agency space, Expedia Group, also ramped up marketing spend in 2021.

In fact, it outspent Booking Holdings by around $ 300 million over the course of the year at $ 4.1 billion, an increase of 66% of the previous 12 months ($ 2.5 billion in 2020).

The group, which has Vrbo, Expedia, Trivago and Travelocity in its portfolio of brands, had also reached a company record of $ 6 billion in marketing spend in 2019.

Travel marketing priorities and competition

The two giants of the online travel sector in the western hemisphere have been singled in recent months by campaigners for a more sustainable travel industry, with the likes of Jeremy Sampson of The Travel Foundation arguing that their marketing budgets could be better spent on green initiatives.

At this stage, Expedia Group and Booking Holdings do not appear to be showing any signs of following this advice, given the marked increases in their ad spend in 2021.

Elsewhere, Airbnb’s efforts to capture the early stages of the recovery period during 2021 saw it spent a record amount on marketing.

The accommodation and activities brand hit $ 1.9 billion over the 12-month period, up from £ 1.2 billion in 2020 and $ 1.6 billion in 2019.

Airbnb has fought against following the strategies of its peers at Booking Holdings and Expedia Group, avoiding the performance marketing tactics that they favor on Google, but its brand advertising efforts elsewhere – especially in the mainstream media and YouTube – are not inconsiderable either.

Trip.com Group, operator of the Ctrip, Skyscanner and Trip.com brands, saw its marketing spend in 2021 increase by 12% year over year to $ 772 million.

The Shanghai, China-based company, which has experienced a solid uptick in travel in its domestic business but international restrictions remain a hindrance on a full recovery, is still some distance behind its 2019 marketing figure of $ 1.3 billion.

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