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Google Suspends OTA Ad Account: What Does This Mean for Travel Advertisers?

Last week, Google froze the ad account of a decade-old Online Travel Agency (OTA). Google rejected the company´s plea to reach a payment plan for the outstanding debt. While any publisher has the right to collect any debt owed to them, Google´s actions have surprised quite a few in the travel industry. In 2018 alone, Google generated $18B from travel ads and year to date, have generated a revenue of $38.3 billion in Q2/2020, just a 2% decrease from the same period in 2019. Needless to say, under the current circumstances, travel companies were expecting some comprehension and flexibility from Google.

notification of unpaid ad balance

This pandemic has been a wake-up call for travelers with large ad budgets, causing travel companies to reinvent themselves in order to acquire customers. While Google is by far the most dominant pay per click ad platform, Covid-19 might cause a paradigm shift for smaller travel advertisers who will move away from Adwords and focus on other acquisition channels.

Google Adword Alternatives

To begin with, advertising on Google Adwords is an expensive endeavor. Expedia and Booking Holdings shell out over $1B a year just on Google Adwords, spiking the bid costs for important keywords. However, due to industry habits, companies continued to advertise on Adwords, many without much success. Not to mention that now, Google is no longer just an ad platform, but rather a travel reseller as well, which ads to the tremendous competition on the platform as is.

So where should you put your travel customer acquisition efforts if not on Adwords?

First, giving up on Adwords doesn´t necessarily mean giving up on Google. Now is the perfect time to invest time and resources into creating content. Skyscanner has been doing just that with their blog, creating content related to typical Covid19 travel questions, such as Are face masks required for travel? What countries are receiving travelers? Do I need a visa to travel to so and so country?”. Now, more than ever, travel companies and travelers are seeking answers to their travel business needs, or leisure travel needs. Use Google Trends to find out which topics are getting more recent search volume. Produce great content that focuses on ranking for keywords that convert traffic into customers and start generating some free Adword-alternative traffic.

Google is by far the market leader in search results, but it´s not the only player in the industry. Run tests on Bing and Duckduckgo, where indeed the potential impressions are much less than on Google, but, your ad costs will be much lower due to lack of competition.

Bing Market Share

average cost per click on Bing versus Google
credit: Report Garden

If your team is capable of producing high quality content, then native ads (Taboola and Outbrain) is a channel you definitely want to check out. Native advertising is the use of paid ads that match the look, feel and function of the media format in which they appear. Native ads are often found in social media feeds, or as recommended content on a web page. A case study by Secret Escapes, a UK-based luxury travel company, showed a very high Click through rate for native campaigns run to desktop ads, which resulted in 600 booked nights for the duration of the campaign. Below you can see average click through rates for content in different countries.

Taboola average click through rate for travel content
Taboola average click through rate for travel content

Lastly, for B2B travel companies, Linkedin offers the best quality targeting options. Nowhere else can you target certain employee positions in certain companies with an extremely relevant offer. While the cost per click will be higher than the previous options, advertising on Linkedin will show your ad to the most relevant audience.


It’s yet to be seen the long term affects of the somewhat broken relationship between Google and the travel industry. Regardless of how that plays out, start experimenting with other options. You might be pleasantly surprised.

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