How well are hotels using Google Adwords?

The effective use of Google is critical for all businesses in the 21st century. But nowhere is it more relevant than in the hotel and hospitality industry. As we get into the business end of the holiday season, let’s take a look at some of the key issues and examples to get a sense of how successful the South African hospitality industry is using Adwords.

Let’s start by doing a simple search on Google South Africa for “hotels”:

For the most part we see international booking engines like, and, dominating what we call the “generic” traffic keywords such as: car hire, hotels, flights, none of which are particularly descriptive.

Once we begin to dig deeper into more long-tail words we see a different picture emerging:

Local suppliers dominate more sophisticated or “long-tail” keywords, but all are showing ads because they have the keyword ‘Hotel in Cape Town’ or ‘Cape Town Hotel’ on broad match, and not ‘luxury hotel in Cape Town’ on exact match.

In my opinion, it shows the relative immaturity of the industry in using this medium, as they have yet to unlock the return on investment that comes from the successful use of exact match keywords.

When we look at the seasonal nature of the industry, a few interesting trends emerge:

  • Hotels in Johannesburg remain fairly flat throughout the year due to most business HQ’s being on the Highveld
  • There is a strong upward demand for coastal hotels over the festive season
  • Most users search for their hotels when they are in the city they are visiting – this may indicate that South African travellers don’t plan too far ahead of their journey


  • The demand rise moving into the November/December period is more pronounced internationally than domestically. Users from the UK in particular, like to travel to South Africa over the winter, or to spend the festive season with their families.
  • The slow decline in overall search volumes from the UK indicates the extent of the global financial crisis and how it has affected international travel
  • One also notices a growth in the variety of (exact match) search terms used; as well as growth in competition from other destinations.

With those graphs in mind, let’s take another look at the results delivered for the search “Luxury hotel in Cape Town”, and see how successful they are.

A few key points stand out:

  • Establishments talk about being close to the city centre, having a spa or having fabulous views.
  • Being close to “the shops” and entertainment areas.
  • Only one of the adverts mentions the term “luxury”.

Contrast these results with the search results for luxury hotels in New York.

  • These adverts match the keyword being searched to what they’re saying. Each advert talks about a “luxury hotel” in Paris – this makes it more convincing for the user to click on.
  • Price is given in one of the ads. Another speaks of ‘Luxury with a low Price Guarantee’.
  • The last advert by has even used Site Links, an added Google Adwords feature that allows businesses to post links in their adverts to popular pages on their  sites.

It’s a slightly more price-sensitive and feature-focused approach than the local one.

Successful search results are not enough. Landing Page quality is essential if businesses are going to get people to follow through and book their establishments online.

Let’s take a look at the Mount Nelson’s landing page:

  • The site is professionally done and has a clean look and feel
  • Not enough emphasis is being placed on the booking aspect of the site

Whereas if we compare it to Hilton New York:

  • The page is pre-populated just above the fold with a selection of their best Paris Hotels – with a price per night associated with each hotel
  • There is search functionality, allowing the user to search all of Starwood’s Paris establishments with a check-in date, check-out date and number of people staying over
  • There is the opportunity to book the room directly from the advert on Google

In conclusion, the South African hotel industry and, particularly, the big brands, need to realise a few things. South Africans are booking online, the user is looking for a reason to choose one hotel over the other and price and availability are the key criteria. Finally, once an ad has been clicked on, the ability to book easily through the landing page is essential for effective ROI.



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