image of a eye indicating value of online search

No sector within travel was left unaffected by the COVID-19 pandemic. That much is sure. 

But, less clear are the resulting shifts in consumer behavior and the impact on organic search intent.

Seeing as SEO is at the core of our offering, we were curious to analyze the data a bit more to see what insights could be gleaned. The goal is to highlight the current areas of opportunity from an SEO perspective, and provide some direction as to overall movement of travelers as the recovery takes shape. 

Armed with this data, companies can better understand the landscape to plan future product pivots and/or marketing campaigns.

Our Methodology

First, we looked at the top 10 U.S. markets by hotel revenue in 2019, according to Lodging Magazine. We did not differentiate between business and leisure. 

These were, in order:

  1. New York
  2. Los Angeles
  3. Washington D.C.
  4. Orlando
  5. Chicago
  6. San Francisco
  7. Boston
  8. Miami
  9. San Diego
  10. Atlanta

Next we pulled historical organic search volume for the top search term during the six-month period March 2019 – August 2019 and compared that to the same period in 2020. For this exercise, we looked only at ‘fathead’ keywords and not ‘long tail’ (e.g. ‘hotels in Orlando’ instead of ‘family friendly hotel near Sea World in March).

The Wildebeest team analyzed both recovery trends within any single given market and also an aggregate of the data across all markets above.

Finally, we used Google Trends to get a gauge of currently trending search terms related to hotels across the United States.

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2019 vs. 2020 – search trends

Every market experienced some degree of decline in search volume in 2020 compared to 2019.

Those cities that saw the largest drop year over year were: Boston (-68%), San Francisco (-67%), Washington D.C. (-64%), and New York (-63%). Cities faring better include: Miami (-21%) and Atlanta (-31%).

These figures are in line with the spread of the pandemic across the country as well as local lockdown laws and regulations. 

Boston was one of the first cities affected by COVID-19 after the Biogen conference in late February was linked to nearly 3% of total U.S. cases. San Francisco, and much of California, went into early lockdown and stayed that way until the summer. New York, of course, was hard hit early on and currently has the most total cases of any U.S. metro area. 

On the flip side, many tourists continued to flock to Miami beaches during the spring break season, despite warnings from health officials.

Recovery has also been uneven across markets. 

On the positive side, as of August 2020, Atlanta is only 4% off in search volume from its 2019 6-month average volume. Search intent in San Diego is also performing nicely, down only 6%. 

However, Washington D.C (-58%) and Boston (-51%) still have a lot to claw back before returning to 2019 levels. 

This makes intuitive sense, in that travelers were searching for outdoor and beach destinations as summer weather started to approach. While Washington D.C. is popular among leisure travelers, it’s also heavy with government business travelers, who are now home-bound. Plus, indoor attractions like the Smithsonian just started to open towards the end of July, and even then, at reduced capacity. 

Research from Tourism Economics, further supports these recovery trends. According to data presented at the 2020 Skift Global Forum, both Atlanta and San Diego are rated as ‘more resilient.’ Thus, these cities are projected to recover faster due to their relative share of domestic room demand vs. out of state tourists. 

Cities like New York and San Francisco are deemed ‘least resilient’ as most hotel room nights are booked by inbound travelers.

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