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The Change in Hotel Search



The last 5 years have seen a major shift in the way travelers search for hotels online.

Some years ago when the traveler emancipated from Travel Agents and started doing their own hotel search the typical search could would have started with a broad query such as “Hotel in New York” and then drill down from there, as the traveler created their shortlist of hotels.

Not so anymore.

Since 2004 hotel search via broad queries has been on a steady decline. In most major cities the search volume for “hotels in [city]” has lost over 70% in just the last 6 years.

See the graphs below from Google Insight for Search on the search volume for three major cities.

Maybe search engine results were better back then (probably not), maybe there were less hotels to choose from, maybe too much optimizing of websites has spammed the results or a myriad of other things.

However the fact remains that travelers aren’t using search engines at the early stages of the buying process.

There is the possibility that guests are using long tail keywords such as “wedding luxury hotels in Geneva” and countless varieties of long tail keywords. Per Google there is a more focused search happening where guests are now looking for hotels in specific neighborhoods rather than cities. But even that doesn’t come near the loss of search using the city.

The new way to search for hotels

Just like yourself, the traveler isn’t going to search for a hotel using Google. They’re going to use meta search systems and in particular OTAs or TripAdvisor, from a travelers viewpoint it’s obviously the place to look as the results are pre-selected, sortable and in some cases one can book from right there.

When we first noticed the change in search we thought it was a problem, until we realized that it isn’t a problem because it doesn’t reflect on hotel occupancy, there are more rooms available in most cities and occupancy rates are quite similar (most certainly not following the search trend).

So it just showed us that the way they search has changed and not the number of people needing a hotel.

Look at the graphs of searches for and Priceline combined

Volume de recherche combiné pour et Priceline.

Volume de recherche combiné pour et Priceline.

Google Hotel Finder and Hotel Price Ads on Google’s search engine results is obviously how Google is working in staying relevant in the hotel space. Both of these are also added value to the user, an integrated meta search on the results page with direct booking link can only be good news.

What this means for hotels

For hotels this means the billboard effect is more important today than ever before. It means you must work with OTAs to increase your distribution. It means you should search out all the different travel search sites like Kayak, Hotelscombined etc and work out how to be present on their platform with a link to your site and if possible your rates and inventory (direct to your site).

This also means that your SEO efforts should target very relevant keywords, less is more. Be precise if you are in SOHO don’t just target Hotels in SOHO but even more precise than that. Combine your SEO with your USP and focus on that skip all the useless keywords that are anyways not on the rise.

Separate the buying process out like this: Leave the broad search and early steps of the buying cycle to OTAs, TripAdvisor, Travel Writers. They give the best user experience but make sure you’re represented on these sites.

Take the typology search such as “boutique hotel in [city]” and leave those searches to special interest sites and travel writers. Again ensure your hotel is represented on these sites.

And when the search is more focused ensure your site is capturing all the visitors that are now ready to purchase.


  1. Josiah Mackenzie

    Love the research and action items on this – thanks for putting it together, Martin.

  2. Martin Rusteberg

    Martin, excellent post with great insight – it perfectly matches my question on LinkedIn, so maybe you wanna chime in?

  3. A. Demeulemeester

    Thanks Martin, excellent info for hotel web marketing and seo.
    Do you know if your article will be translated in French ?

  4. Martin Soler

    Here it is in French (sorry for the delay):
    The post is now available in French, Italian, Spanish and German.

  5. BobPhibbs,RetailDoc

    Great insights that smart #hoteliers will use this to better market their property the way customers are seeking them out now, not like they did only a few years ago.

  6. Mary van den Heuvel

    Great article Martin! This is definitely useful information for us, the hoteliers. Thank you!

  7. Toby

    I am pretty sure that Google insights is being misused here and that the conclusions are incorrect. Insights does not display total search volume in the graphs. It shows the query’s search volume as a percentage of the overall web search volume. Every year the total number of searches grows at a faster rate than for any one query which gives the graphs their downward slope. Booking and Priceline are new products, so the number of search queries grows at a faster rate than the overall web search volume, giving that graph the upward slope. So basically the conclusions of this article are incorrect. There has been an increase in the number of “destination” searches, but because the number of overall searches increase exponentially each year, destination searches represent a smaller percentage of the total search volume, so this strategy is based on flawed conclusions.

  8. Aldo Polledro

    Hi Toby,
    Thanks for your comment. You are right, the decline is relative, in a overall fast growing context like the Internet one.
    I propose you an analogy: Italy’s GDP grew during the last 20 years, but foreign investments are moving away… Maybe this graph would help you to understand why:!ctype=l&strail=false&bcs=d&nselm=h&met_y=ny_gdp_mktp_cd&scale_y=lin&ind_y=false&rdim=region&idim=country:CHN:ITA&ifdim=region&hl=en_US&dl=en&ind=false

  9. Aldo Polledro

    In other words: in a growing market, if you grow more than average you are gaining market shares, if you are growing less than average you are losing market shares.

  10. Nicols from Conseils Tourisme

    The research is really interesting Martin. In france, it’s the same observation.

  11. David Martin

    Makes some sense this. Generic searches have probably lead to protracted times looking for something in the specifics, so using long tail searches in google wiil obviously refine the search and bring the end user to where they wish to be. With the myriad of choice it is obvious for the consumer to go to a trusted site like Trip Advisor rather than trawling through booking sites unknown.
    Thanks for the blog, very enlightening!

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  15. Bernhard Rieder

    nice articel!
    comment: u do not need to use OTAs to be present in Hotelfinder (Travel Ads). Also a view CRS systems are part of Google Travel Ads programme and can send Availability and Rates directly to Google and provide a booking possibility.
    Bernhard –

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  18. Cathryn

    This is a very good insight into Online Hotel Marketing, It gives one a good grasp of the changing trends and how best to capitalize on each.
    HeadQuater Inn Resort $ Spa Nairobi Kenya

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Martin Soler

VP Marketing and Sales

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