The data says: Global demand growth for Airbnb, TripAdvisor and Agoda

This is a viewpoint from Gitit Greenberg, director of digital insights at SimilarWeb.

If you want to find the most innovative digital growth strategies, one of the best places to look is online travel. The sector is so highly competitive that for a company to have any success, they must demonstrate both incredible digital strength and innovative thinking.

The same holds true for the strategies necessary for creating global growth, where overall market saturation makes international expansion a cornerstone of success. Finding the right markets and the right way to reach those audiences is critical and can often determine market winners and losers.

We looked at three leading digital players to see how the tactics they employed and the methodologies they applied.

TripAdvisor: Adapting to new markets

The Japanese travel landscape is notoriously consolidated and heavily built around local companies. The top ten is made up of 8 Japanese brands, and of the top 100 travel sites, over 25% of traffic goes to the top 3 – all Japanese.

So how does an international break through? By recognizing general trends of overall audience behavior and adapting to their behavior.

First, TripAdvisor recognized traffic patterns that were heavily tilted towards mobile web. Where the US sees about 55% of overall travel traffic from mobile web, that number skyrockets to over 72% in Japan. To account, TripAdvisor doubled down on mobile in Japan, a move that paid dividends as mobile web fueled the bulk of their 40% growth.

The second step was to identify an area of strength they could apply – in this case, tremendous SEO capacity via targeted landing pages and content – to a new context. TripAdvisor is globally recognized as a titan of SEO, but what makes the Japanese case interesting is how it differs from TripAdvisor’s standard approach. In the US, where their brand is strongest, 54% of their search terms come from non-branded terms. Yet, this number jumps to nearly 94% in Japan –  a strong recognition that to succeed in the long run, they need to recognize the lack of brand awareness and make themselves as ‘discoverable’ as possible in the short term.

Airbnb: Riding the brand

On the other hand, sometimes abandoning the brand is a key mistake.

One of the main criteria for mastering global expansion is understanding the market you are about to enter and the elements that set that market apart. But just as important is being keenly aware of what is similar and which elements of an existing strategy can be applied ‘as is.’ Few examples show this process more clearly than Airbnb’s strategy in France where the company is enjoying a 25% traffic share increase among the top 20 sites in the sector.

Airbnb is heavily dependent on brand awareness and the strong affinity that users around the world have for the company. As opposed to trying new channels to drive growth in France, Airbnb went with their tried and tested methods to increase their presence.

Airbnb relies on brand awareness — through branded search and direct traffic — to account for nearly 65% of their traffic. Yet, even with this simpler and much cheaper process, they are driving growth even against their top competitor whose strength lies in SEO and Paid Search. Will this strategy continue forever? Likely not, as Airbnb will certainly identify ways to diversify, but the use of a core method for creating a bulkhead is working wonders for the travel giant.

Even more it points to Airbnb’s potential to drive even more growth should they increase their paid UA focus.

Agoda: Moving the other direction

Where TripAdvisor and Airbnb are moving away from the US, has a unique challenge when it comes to global expansion.

Agoda has been a dominant force in Southeast Asia and is now making a concerted push into the US, India and other larger markets. The move comes with a unique challenge that can make an effort like this very difficult – the shift in focus to a more competitive market can become a drain on the resources necessary to maintain the status quo in the areas where Agoda is already dominating.

Can Agoda grow internationally while holding onto their base? For the moment, it seems so.

The first thing one notices when looking at Agoda is that this is certainly a factor, as is suffering traffic share losses in 8 of its top 10 markets. However, the losses remain relatively minimal with Thailand topping the list of countries with a drop in market share of 1.6%.

Comparing a small loss like this with a market share gain of over 1% in the far more lucrative US travel scene makes the move seem far more logical. Even more impressive is that the immediate rise in US traffic has corresponded with equally impressive growth in engagement metrics, positioning Agoda well. However, because the market is so competitive, channelling ongoing growth with organic search is unlikely and a heavier shift to paid will likely be necessary.

International growth is a process that is often equally difficult and necessary. Taking the time to really understand the market you’re entering, the tactics you know best and the risks you’re willing to take to gain market share, will help drive a strategy far more likely to succeed.

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