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: June 28 - Sessions have been climbing in absolute terms across regions and user-destination distance segments for a few months now. The overall level has tracked with 2019 remarkably closely throughout June, the seasonal growth mounting toward the customary annual peak in sessions on July 4th. Right now, we forecast that peak being significantly higher in 2021 than it was 2019 (the highest single day for DMO sessions in history).
Local users have provided the biggest chunk of growth, again reflecting the influence of American Independence Day and the wide-ranging interest in holiday events, particularly fireworks shows. All US regions are up about 50% year over year still, except for the South, where stronger performance a year ago means that growth is about half of that level.
Organic Website Traffic
Latest Update: June 28 - Where overall traffic has been roughly even with 2019 throughout June, organic search sessions have been running quite a bit ahead of that pace. The lead has narrowed a little due to our day-of-week rather than date-based year over year matching but should expand again as we reach Independence Day. Indeed, Events pages, driven largely by local users, have for the first time since the pandemic become again the second biggest contributor to organic search entrances from among all the content types we track. Things to Do is now at its highest level since 2019. In general, activity in these categories is associated with actual travel, reflecting the rapidly normalizing tourism situation in the US, where most regions are up by a third over last year and the Midwest is at double that growth level.
Paid Website Traffic
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: June 28 - DMOs finally seem to be ramping up paid budgets, though they remain below 2019 levels in terms of sessions. Average cost per click has, if anything, fallen slightly since then, so expense is not the issue, nor quality, as clickthrough rates have also improved. All US regions but the South, which, having run more paid search campaigns a year ago, is even year over year, are double or more their 2020 paid search session levels. Fly market users are coming to dominate this segment, a wise audience for DMOs to reach out to as travel becomes more and more normalized in this country.
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.
2021 shows a 58% increase in searches compared to 2020 and an 18% increase compared to 2019. July shows an 11% increase in searches compared to 2020 and a 19% increase compared to 2019.
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.
2021 shows a 58% increase in referrals compared to 2020 and a 61% increase compared to 2019. July shows a 12% increase in referrals compared to 2020 and a 65% increase compared to 2019.
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 75 days out. In July, people are currently searching 64 days out compared to 48 days out in 2020 and 64 days out in 2019.
Length of Stay
The length of stay was also impacted. March 2020 showed an average length of stay of 4.4 nights compared to 4.1 nights 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 4.2 nights. In July, the average length of stay is 4.1 nights compared to 4.2 nights in 2020 and 3.9 nights in 2019.
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.