Can Facebook Catch up to Google in Travel Advertising?

Google set its eyes on the travel industry a while ago. Travel is one of its top ad revenue sources. The Priceline Group alone reportedly spent a big chunk of its $3.5 billion investment in search engine marketing with Google in 2016. That’s not to mention Google’s many travel products, including consumer travel planning apps and Google flights.

Now Facebook, with its formidable 1.7 billion monthly active users and penetration in more than 200 countries, is also beginning to consider the opportunities in the lucrative travel sector. But is it too late to the game?

When Facebook shuttered its ad exchange (FBX) in early 2016, travel brands could no longer use display ads on the social media giant to reach customers, unless they used Facebook’s Dynamic Product Ads. But there was a catch: Dynamic Product Ads were designed for ecommerce and lacked many parameters relevant to travel advertisers.

Take the real-time inventory feeds, for instance. The risk of serving the wrong price for an airline ticket could be construed as bait-and-switch, make consumers angry or even lead to a lawsuit, particularly in Europe, where the regulatory environment is even tighter than in the US. Add to that the fact that most real-time inventory feeds were created for websites, not for programmatic advertising – where you have 40 milliseconds to win the bid and serve the ad to the consumer – and you have a potential recipe for disaster.

To Facebook’s credit, it recognized early on that its Dynamic Product Ads were not suitable for travel brands, where the sheer number of core consumer purchase considerations – where, when, with whom and so on, combined with the rapidly changing pricing and product availability – all present a significant marketing challenge unique to the travel industry. So, the social networking giant started to cater to the hotel industry last year, with its first verticalized advertising product, Dynamic Ads for Travel (DAT), which it later expanded to destinations and flights.

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