How well do airlines use Google Adwords?

Flights are a massive online revenue driver as they are more convenient to book and generally cheaper than going through a ‘real-life’ travel agent. To see who the main players in the industry are, a simple search for ‘flights’ will suffice:

For the most part we see international airlines like Emirates, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic taking advantage of South Africans looking for ‘flights’. Incidentally, these adverts are booked internationally (ie: outside of South Africa) and are there to create awareness more than conversion. Their messaging speaks about: choosing your seat and booking online; everyday low fares and other general tips.

Of note, and totally different with regards to these international carriers, is South African travel aggregator, Travelstart. They’ve clearly backed the South African user to book online and they sell additional commodities such as flights, car hire, hotels and packages.

If we look at the long-tail of international flights (ie: including destinations like New York in our keyword query) we can see that the usual suspects, including Travelstart, have this base covered:

If we look at local queries, like ‘Flight to Cape Town’ there is an alarming lack of low cost carriers taking advantage of South Africans looking online:

Only Kulula is advertising its flights whilst it seems that 1Time, Mango and even SAA haven’t cottoned onto the fact South Africans book domestic flights online. The above fact is a pity when we compare the demand for these brands online:

When carriers do advertise, their keyword coverage is on the exact-match of the long-tail keyword and not expanding off of broad-match keywords like ‘flight’ or ‘flights’. This shows a keen understanding of the Google Adwords system and also means that companies like Travelstart are not overpaying for their click.

In terms of domestic seasonality:

  • Durban is the least frequented of the South African destinations throughout the year, although this year demand doubled especially over the festive season.
  • Of the three remaining destinations, it is a very close race to see which is the 2nd most demanded destination.
  • There is a strong upward demand of coastal flights over the festive season – especially over the past 2 years as internet connectivity and online booking have increased;
  • Return flights are the most popular, with people searching for flights back to their home regions from their home regions.
  • Johannesburg is the most popular local destination year round as it is the business hub of South Africa, however, it is in strong competition with Cape Town.

Internationally, we have 2 categories: Flights Inbound and Flights Outbound.

For outbound flights and destinations we find that:

  • Out of Sydney, London, New York and Paris – South Africans are most demanding of flights to London. This is indicative of South Africans emigrating, visiting their expat friends or simply vacationing. Of note is the incline into the festive and Easter seasons as well as the mid-year slump.

There are few surprises when it comes to inbound flights:

  • Out of the United Kingdom, Australia, the United States and India, demand is highest from the United Kingdom.
  • Demand from the United Kingdom has been in steady decline since 2005, dropping by up to 80% into 2010, whilst demand from Australia has doubled since 2005.

If we look at the adverts for domestic flights, we see that :

  • Travelstart is using Google Sitelinks which allows users to click through to popular pages on their site.
  • Kulula plays on its “low cost carrier” status by mentioning the affordability of flights.
  • There is, unfortunately, no mention of flight prices, probably due to fluctuations caused by availability and amount of days pre-flight.
  • Global aggregators like Travelsupermarket talk about comparing prices.

Landing Page Quality is a must-have if businesses are going to get people to book flights online.

Let’s take a look at Travelsupermarket’s presence:

  • The site is shoddy, and looks like it was designed in the 90’s;
  • There is no site search;
  • After clicking through to book a flight (poor usability) we are sent to a page which is a white-label of the travelstart booking engine.
  • Whereas if we compare it to Kulula:

    • The page is pre-populated with flight dates and the destination being searched for you to check availability;
    • Kulula’s other products are on display so a person booking flights can also book car hire as well as their hotel;
    • Kulula has provided a ‘Bargain Browza’ capability in order for users to find the cheapest flights they possibly can;
    • There is a Discovery Vitality login so that Discovery users can get up to 35% discount on flights and 25% on car hire.

    In conclusion, although South Africans are booking flights online some of the low cost carriers still need to adopt this medium into their advertising schemes. Companies like 1time and Mango are losing market share to international flight aggregators that are charging a mark-up when sales are made on their sites. Demand for international flights remains high, especially to places like London whilst aspects like price, upselling of other products and availability are becoming key.



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