Lockdowns and other restrictions have put leisure travel on indefinite hold, dramatically changing traffic to destination websites and how DMOs are responding through digital marketing.
Check here for the latest data and analysis on organic website traffic, traffic driven by paid media, changes in DMO digital marketing spending and other indicators of impact on leisure travel.
Our initial reporting compares 2019, 2020 and 2021 Google Analytics data for 200 DMO websites across North America. We look at web traffic overall and separated into organic traffic vs. traffic driven by paid media ("paid traffic").
DMO Web Traffic Impact
The following charts update daily using our sample set of 200 DMOs. Depending on your connection speed, it may take several seconds for the data to load.
Overall Website Traffic
Latest Update: April 5 - All sessions are still way up year-over-year thanks to the extreme weakness of all metrics immediately after the shutdown, but absolute growth has stalled and even taken a slight turn down. The change has occurred almost entirely among fly-market visitors: those are declining day on day, while drive and local markets are still sending a steady amount of sessions. In some ways this is good: the hallmark of the pandemic on DMO sites has been the loss of local users while those from fly markets remained relatively strong, and we would expect the mix to shift back as we return to normalcy. At any rate, the steadiness of local users after major gains recently is a great sign for the segment of traffic that has hurt the most. The South and West in particular are seeing this pattern in force, while other regions are taking a slight pause in growth over all segments.
Organic Website Traffic
2020 traffic first dipped below 2019 levels on February 27 and appear to have stabilized down 64% year over year.
Latest Update: March 22 - The organic search sessions trend is even better than that for all sessions, with growth reaching 9% since last week and 46% since four weeks ago. In fact, DMOs as of yesterday were down only 1.4% vs 2019 on this measure! This traffic, which represents people seeking out travel information on their own initiative, is coming disproportionately from locals who are going to events pages, though things to do and home pages are also surging right now. All regions are recovering, so DMOs in all areas should be sure to focus on publishing fresh info on events and other available activities in the coming weeks.
Paid Website Traffic
2020 traffic first dipped below 2019 levels on March 10 and appear to have stabilized down 64% year over year.
Paid Traffic1 is limited to channels that can be clearly identified as paid sources by Google Analytics. These channels include paid search, display ads and other paid advertising.
Latest Update: March 22 - Paid search sessions are growing even faster than the other channels thanks to DMOs wisely shutting down that source of traffic almost entirely this time last year. Now the faucets are back on and sessions are rising faster than they did either in 2019 or in pre-quarantine 2020. Now is the time to get your destination in front of people returning to travel, so this traffic should produce bigger dividends than it would in normal times. Destinations in the Northeast and Midwest seem to be taking advantage of this, with paid search session levels running even higher than they were before the quarantine, while Western and Southern DMOs have been much more cautious (although their trajectories are going upwards, just less steeply).
The following charts are updated weekly and use a sample set of more than 230 destinations. Depending on your connection speed, it may take several seconds for the data to load.
After a steep decline that began at the end of February 2020, daily searches bottomed out on April 4, 2020, showing an 85% decline in daily searches. A couple of months later, Searches bounced back, showing a 9.8% increase for June 2020. The months with the highest year-over-year increases in 2020 were August (17% increase), September (45% increase), and October (24% increase), but overall for the whole year, searches went down by 6% in 2020. Even though search performance was not the same for all destinations, mountain towns and coastal destinations near the sunbelt heavily influenced the year-over-year increases we saw in searches.
As for 2021, January showed a 9.6% increase in searches YoY, February showed a 20.6% increase YoY, and March is currently sustaining search volume, whereas last year, this when the steep decline began.
Due to the pandemic, on March 20, 2020, we experienced an 81% decrease in daily referrals YoY. Since then, referrals stabilized and increased by 1,136% through early June. The months with the highest year-over-year increase in referrals for 2020 were June (63% increase), August (63% increase), September (86% increase), and October (55% increase). Overall, referrals in 2020 increased by 25% YoY, mostly influenced by mountain towns and coastal destinations near the sunbelt.
Currently, 2021 shows a 36% increase in referrals, and March is sustaining referral volume and showing signs that referrals might climb faster, whereas, in 2020, this is when the steep decline began.
As searches and referrals were impacted, so was the booking window. On February 28, 2020, visitors searched 91 days out on average, which quickly declined to 60 days out on March 13, signaling visitors may have been rushing to book something sooner. That changed through April 5, when people started looking at trips 122 days out and searching for trips around early August, but then the booking window started to shorten. Most travelers in June were looking at trips targeting the end of July, and in July, most travelers looked at trips targeting the second half of August. September, October, November, and December showed an average booking window of 65 days in 2020 compared to 82 days in 2019.
As for 2021, the average search booking window is 89 days out. Currently, in March, people are searching 79 days out compared to 81 days out in 2020.
Length of Stay
The length of stay was also impacted. March 2020 showed an average length of stay of 4.4 days compared to 4.1 days for the previous year - a 7% longer stay. April showed a 17% increase YOY, May showed a 10% increase YOY, June showed a 7.5% increase YOY, and July showed a 7.6% longer stay YOY. The longer stay trend started to shift in August, where the length of stay remained similar YOY. September, October, November, and December continued to show a similar length of stay for 2020 and 2019.
As for 2021, the average length of stay is 4.3 days. In March, the average length of stay is 4.2 days compared to 3.9 days in 2020.
Our year-to-date analysis shows three dates as significant inflection points for DMO web traffic:
- February 26
- White House holds first press briefing on the coronavirus outbreak.
- March 11
- WHO declares novel coronavirus outbreak to be a pandemic.
- White House announces restrictions on travel from Europe.
- March 13
- The United States declares a national emergency.
- The United States declares a national emergency.