How far one travel intermediary has got by not relying on Google

Investing in Google AdWords may be the route to rapid early growth for many travel start-ups, but this was not the case for Holiday Pirates.

In fact, today the company, which launched in 2012 as a travel blog publishing value for money deals, only pays for 7% of its traffic, with all this spend being directed to social media.

David Armstrong, CEO of the social media driven metasearch for travel deals, says:

“So far, we haven’t spent a single pound or euro in Google.”

What Holiday Pirates quickly discovered, says Armstrong, is that the word could be spread far more effectively in social channels. To date, its paid-for efforts have been focused mainly on Facebook, and to a lesser extent Instagram and WhatsApp (which now has one million subscribers) though these and other social channels are growing fast.

He was speaking at EyeforTravel’s Digital Strategies for Travel Summit in Amsterdam last week.

The rest of its traffic arrives organically from either Google or social media, with around 30% recurring through the app or as a result of CRM initiatives following an email or WhatsApp campaign.

By focusing heavily on social media, Holiday Pirates has been able to build a strong brand.

“Most of our organic traffic is from people who have typed in our brand name – either the URL or into Google. We do have some SEO traffic going to our landing pages, but 70% of organic traffic is on the brand name,” he says.

This goes to show, he adds, “that you can build a brand on social media, which also helps in search engines”.

Sustainable growth

Today Holiday Pirates employs more than 200 hundred people in 10 countries, and delivers its service in seven languages. At the same time, the website receives around 30 million monthly visits, the app has been downloaded 9 million times, and it has racked up more than eight million Facebook fans.

Growing traffic in social channels is one thing, but Holiday Pirates is also seeing growth in transactions too. Armstrong says:

“The nice thing is that total transaction volume is growing faster than traffic. So we continue to have high conversions year on year.”

In 2016, for example, the company processed transactions to the tune of €258 million. Another plus is that between January and November 2017, 70% of traffic came from repeat visitors.

Initially the business model was affiliate based but once traffic grew, they started building direct partnerships with brands that include the likes of Secret Escapes, Travelbird and Thomas Cook.

Trust and transparency

So, has it been a slow and arduous process to drive traffic and a build a strong customer base?

Armstrong says no.

“It hasn’t been slow at all. It is just about understanding social media, the mechanics and the psychology behind it.”

According to Armstrong, to get to this point has required dedication and passion but, he argues, if you find a great deal and post it on social media, it will go viral, and people will like it and share it.

One of the advantages of social media, he says, is that it’s totally transparent; you get instant feedback, even if that is criticism, and this can help to build sustainable relationships.

Holiday Pirates would, as an example, “never dare to publish something that isn’t a very good deal, for risk of being torn apart on social media”.

Instead, it claims that the secret to success is to source deals that deliver true value for money, and are entirely independent of any commercial relationships.

“It’s easy to spend money in Google. You just have to top up an account and press a button – but that is not sustainable.”

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