Channel hopping: which travel ad formats are getting the most attention?

From search ads and CTV commercials to emails and affiliate partnerships – which formats work best for converting people looking to travel - and for inspiring those who are not?

This article is part of PMW’s new Performance Marketing Playbook: Travel Brands report. View the full report here.

“Unlike other purchases, quite often the consumer is unaware that they’re in the market for a holiday, so each channel has value and has the potential to be the booking funnel entry trigger.”

Speaking to PMW, Anna Slater, Senior Global Industry Director, Travel, Teads, lays out a universal truth to travel – we are all susceptible to the promise of a new adventure, at any time. While more active customers are seeking specific holidays for ‘business, leisure or other’, the goal of travel marketers is to inspire new dream destinations while at the same time reassuring a pandemic-weary and cash-strapped consumer on price and trustworthiness. 

With this in mind, what performance marketing channels are being 'overrated and underrated' in the travel industry? Recent data shows that the ‘Duopoly’ of Meta and Google is in decline as new platforms such as TikTok, new channels like Retail Media and new alliances on the ‘open web’ become more effective for marketers. But is this what consumers really think? For this playbook, we asked 5,000 of them directly. 

Exclusive data from LoopMe for PMW indicates that the duopoly isn’t dead just yet, but search is no longer taking the lion's share of digital ad attention for travel shoppers. Search channels remain, on average, the most effective way to influence consumer purchase decisions, with 41% of consumers saying that ads on their travel search results will most likely influence their buying decisions.

Commenting on the data, Sarah Rew, Senior Director, Global Marketing, LoopMe, said: “Our LoopMe research indicates that 41% of consumers’ Search Ads will be influential in swaying their holiday purchases in 2023. This means that travel companies will need to go the extra mile and utilise real-time measurement solutions to reach the right audiences, on the right platforms, at the right time. This will allow travel marketers to optimise budgets and weather the storm of inflation, while also helping them anticipate purchase behaviours, and remain agile in response to evolving consumer trends.”

“Travel brands and agencies should be looking to diversify their marketing investment in order to protect and grow their online market share. With the travel market bouncing back after a couple of years of disruption due to COVID, the competition in the market for ad placements has never been higher,” Poole says. “This is causing cost per mille (CPMs) and cost per clicks (CPCs) to increase, making it more expensive for marketers to deliver the same results at the same cost per acquisition (CPA) as before. To mitigate this, brands should be looking at expanding their media mix to additional ad placements, platforms, and channels in 2023.”

Jo Harris-Cooksley, Strategy Director at Reprise, points out that  search may be a key driver of sales via the 'last click', travel marketers need to be smart about how each touchpoint affects the other. “While many performance marketers focus mostly on paid media, real-world customer journeys span touchpoints way beyond that.” Harris-Cooksley says. “This is why performance marketing works best when you go beyond just paid media and ensure all your different marketing channels work together.

“For travel brands, organic search is obviously a huge driver of traffic in travel and hugely competitive, but many brands underestimate the investment level – particularly around content –they need to make to be visible in results. At the moment apps are also driving more and more bookings for big brands. and Expedia have both reported upticks in usage on their apps.”

So what are the new formats advertisers can add to their media mix? Slater sees interactive audio, such as smart speakers and mobile voice assistants as a lucrative new medium catering for the growing working audience post-pandemic. 

“With a disrupted working routine post-covid, travel brands need to ensure they have touch points across channels that can reach consumers at varying times of their day – whether they’re at home or in the office,” Slater says. “Audio is benefiting more than before with the pivot to WFH dominance. The successful travel brand will have a clearly defined strategy for all channels,” Slater concludes. 

Mo Moubayed, Co-Founder and Co-CEO, Veridooh, advocates digital out of home as an exciting new opportunity for advertisers – with an added layer of extra measurability on top of the experiential allure of traditional poster campaigns. “DOOH has been an underrated channel when it comes to performance marketing. Given that OOH is one of the oldest forms of advertising, it’s easy to understand why people don’t immediately see DOOH as a performance marketing channel.” 

“However, the data and technology in the sector today means that DOOH is a great performance marketing tool. In terms of overrated channels, many brands are realising that search isn’t serving them as they thought it would and we could see a shift away from the channel this year,” Moubayed adds. 

Rather than a specific channel, Jason Mander, Chief Research Officer at GWI sees flexibility, and getting the message across regardless of channel, as a key factor for travel brands in 2023. “The world might have opened again for travel, but travellers remain cautious about booking holidays. Flexibility is a top priority for consumers – over half (54%) of UK holidaymakers say that being able to cancel or rebook a holiday for free is the most important factor when choosing their next trip. 

“With this in mind, brands should make sure their messaging around flexible travel takes centre stage – they need to appeal to what consumers need and want to make the most of the renewed travel boom,” Mander concludes. 

How do marketers plan to shift spend in 2023?

For its Media Reactions 2022 study, Kantar spoke to almost 1,000 marketers about their expected media spend in 2023. This study found that increased spend across a whole host of digital channels is expected to continue into 2023 (see graph below).

Branding and performance marketing: the ultimate package for holiday ads

Of course, performance marketers can’t overlook the importance of creativity in the sales funnel. Travel is an emotive purchase – people are ultimately paying for experiences, mental well-being and memories rather than functional outcomes.

“If they haven’t already, marketers should be making long term brand building a top priority. As we saw with the second half of 2022, this year will be overshadowed by the cost-of-living crisis which means consumers likely won’t be travelling as much as usual,” says Moubayed. “Marketers should be looking at metrics such as brand lift now more than ever to ensure their brand stays top of mind for when people are ready to spend again.”

Indeed, performance marketing and branding efforts are all too often siloed across departments within brands and agencies alike. But when brilliant brand messaging meets the timing and targeting capabilities of performance, the results can hit the sweet spot of maximum impact and minimised costs.  

To learn more about getting this mix right, PMW spoke to Gonca Bubani, Kantar’s Global Media Director, Kantar Insights, to see how brands are shifting their spend and investments in 2023: “It’s important to understand that digital campaigns can play a role in brand building and shouldn’t just focus on short term goals,” Bubani told PMW. “Performance marketing and brand building can and should go hand in hand, so campaigns which evoke the experience and emotions around taking a much-anticipated holiday should be part of the online strategy just as much as ones which highlight lowest flight prices.”

“We undertook some new analysis of our CrossMedia database to see which channels are the hardest hitters and which are the most cost effective. Some channels, like TV and OOH, for their investment as a percentage of overall spend, have a lower return in terms of impact on brand awareness, associations and motivation. Other channels like Point of Sale and Facebook overperform by that metric. 

“So, the starting point should always be to understand who your target audience is, who you're trying to reach and the combination of channels that you need to do that effectively. This might not be as straightforward as it sounds. For example, placing ads on travel websites could work in some cases, as it allows you to reach your target audience, but might not in other cases as the ads would not stand out in an environment full of similar content. The best way to know is to test your ads in context ahead of time. "

Once in a lifetime

Travel quickly became a ‘digital first’ sector as consumers switched to online booking platforms over high street agents. The by-product of this is brands are often all too quick to cajole consumers onto their booking system, running the risk scaring off customers before they are primed to commit.

“There's always the tendency for short-term 'survivalist' thinking when it comes to economic downturns,” says Zeynep Arat, Senior Strategy Director at EssenceMediacomX. "I typically see investment mixes weighted more heavily toward performance. But, my advice, especially in an emotional and inspirational category like travel, is not to forget about brand. There will still be a need to make new connections with audiences, so how can you show you're more than just a booking platform? This doesn't mean don't do performance marketing but think about how you can blend the two in a unified way.

Arat points to the need for reassurance from fellow travellers being key, especially in a sector that leans heavily on once-in-a-lifetime purchases. “Travel brands need to rediscover the power of second-hand recommendations and referrals- for example, the use of influencers, especially in audio in the 'mid funnel' performance are often forgotten about or disregarded. These platforms have incredible power as they blend inspiration with action. Travel brands need to think about messaging that encourages people to talk about their brand more organically, rather than doubling down on action-focussed messaging with a bias to 'book with us' as quickly as possible.”

Checks before take-off

Fernando Angulo, Senior Market Research Manager at Semrush also cautions marketers not to be too dazzled by new channels - at least until they have strong fundamentals. “Coming into a year when many countries are facing increased economic pressures, we are advising brands to be focused on getting the basics right,”Angulo says. “Making sure sites stay optimised, boosting organic results, keeping social and other feeds rolling are all good advice for any business, whether in travel or beyond.

Looking ahead, Harris-Cooksley warned brands not to be complacent as frugal customers expand their searches for a better deal, said: “This year, travel companies can’t rely on their brand name and loyalty to drive bookings. Customer price sensitivity means shifting to other channels like paid advertising to attract new customers, loyalty schemes to retain, potentially through apps.”

This article is part of PMW’s new Performance Marketing Playbook: Travel Brands report. View the full report here.


PMW commissioned LoopMe to survey 4,938 consumers in the UK, from 17-19 January 2023 to understand consumer sentiment with regards to travel spend and advertising this year. LoopMe's opt-in GDPR-compliant research was delivered to consumers via their mobile devices. All surveys were non-incentivised. Surveys appear as consumers engage with content across mobile web and apps, providing scalability and unique reach for data collection. PurchaseLoop Audiences leverages survey technology to identify your in-market audience. PurchaseLoop Audiences are created from proprietary segments using live, opt-in, marketplace responses and modelled to scale by our industry-leading artificial intelligence.