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 and 2020 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
January 1 - March 10 - DMOs were seeing overall average traffic growth of 17.74 percent when compared to 2019.
March 11 - March 16 - This period saw the sharpest decline (-48.8 percent) in overall website traffic as major closures and news volume concerning the coronavirus pandemic increased.
March 17 - March 22 - After the first week of traffic decreases, DMOs saw a second, less severe, decline of -30.9 percent. Daily overall traffic bottomed out and stabilized at approximately a -66 percent decrease in daily traffic loss when compared to 2019.
April 12 - April 19 - After some time of no major movement in web traffic, the first green shoots of recovery in DMO web traffic have appeared. We've seen about a week of steady growth, with all sessions rising 23 percent in total between 4/12 and 4/19. Whether this mini-trend will continue remains to be seen, but it's wonderful to have some positive developments to tend and encourage going forward.
April 20 - April 26 - Growth continued this week, at a slightly lower rate than last, with 2.2 percent increase per day on average and 16 percent for the week. Regionally, the recovery has been strongest in the US South, where several states have begun to end the shutdown. Recovery is stronger among visitors from fly and drive markets than locals, although all types have shown improvement in delivering sessions to DMO websites.
April 27 - May 3 - Overall sessions continue to recover, for the third straight week, although the pace of the recovery has not increased. All DMO sessions grew 15 percent over the past week and 2 percent per day. It seems likely that the first signs of a thaw in the shutdown created excitement that has not been matched by real travel opportunities yet. As the ice is broken, we hope to see traffic recovery bend upward and increase at an increasing rate.
May 4 - 10 - Gains from the past couple of weeks have levelled off. While trailing-seven-day sessions are still up, point-to-point they've declined -4 percent from the 3rd to the 10th. That said, they declined -7 percent between the same points last year, so by that comparison things are still improving. Alaskan destinations and the US south continue to outperform other geographic regions.
May 11 - 17 - Last week may have been flat, but the one just ended has been the best for DMO web sessions since the crisis began. All sessions rose 30 percent from 5/10 to 5/17 (3.8 percent per day), with drive-market sessions growing fastest over the past couple of weeks. Regionally, the US south and Alaska continue to do well; other US destinations are growing slowly, and Canada remains far below normal traffic numbers.
May 18 - 24 - Overall sessions had another good week, pushing further toward normalcy (+20 percent from the end of the prior week, +2.6 percent per day). Drive-market web traffic has been growing faster than fly and local sessions since mid-April and is now the primary force pushing the recovery. Regionally, the US South is still the biggest success, while Canada's traffic recovery is still waiting on the launchpad.
May 25 - 31 - This week was the first in nearly two months without good news to report, traffic instead coming in mostly flat (-3.9 percent 5/24 to 5/31). However, last week included all of the planning phase leading up to Memorial Day, so we should expect some softening without the holiday boost this weekend. We'll watch for growth to resume this week. For all sessions, the South is still closest to finding normalcy, but the Northeast has pushed its way past the West within the continental US in terms of YoY growth.
Organic Website Traffic
2020 traffic first dipped below 2019 levels on February 27 and appear to have stabilized down 64% year over year.
January 1 - February 25 organic traffic had been up approximately 7 percent YoY.
February 27 - This was the first day that daily organic traffic fell below 2019 organic traffic with a loss of approximately 3 percent and signaled the first wave of organic traffic decreases.
March 11 - 23 - This period saw continued losses with a 59.5 percent decrease in daily organic traffic , most likely due to the media coverage and growing severity of the COVID-19 situation.
March 21 - April 5 - The YoY decreases in daily organic website traffic appear to be normalizing at a ~64 percent when compared to 2019.
April 12 - April 19 - Organic search sessions are the purest simple indicator of leisure travel interest. We’ve seen 32 precent growth in organic search sessions from 4/12 to 4/19, which is a strong indication that people are beginning to think about travel again.
April 20 - April 26 - Organic search sessions recovered almost exactly as all sessions did last week, 2.2 percent per day and just over 16 percent overall. The South continues to lead the way, but all US regions are improving consistently by this metric, with only Canada lagging among those we track. Fly market visitors lead the way here as well.
April 27 - May 3 - Organic search sessions have increased in recovery speed slightly, rising 22 percent over the past week (2.9 percent per day). While the Fly market has had the best YoY growth so far (or least bad fall), in the past week, drive-market users (between 1 and 4 hours away from the destination) have really begun to pick up. Insofar as driving vacations are most realistic and require less planning, this is an encouraging sign that actual travel may pick up soon.
May 4 - 10 - Organic search sessions growth flattened last weeks as well, declining 2 percent point to point. Notably, this traffic returned to a Saturday peak for the first time since the shutdown, which was the normal pattern before. Fly-market traffic continues to rise despite stagnation in other segments, and the South, where organic fly-market traffic is now well into YoY growth, leads the way.
May 11 - 17 - Organic search sessions had an excellent week (28 percent increase 3.6 percent per day), although with paid traffic picking back up rapidly, all sessions grew slightly faster. Within this critical channel, fly- and drive-market traffic has been improving much faster than local over the past three weeks, with fly-market sessions falling only 10 percent last year's level on 5/17. If we focus on drive-market sessions, the US west is now breaking even, while the south continues to do very well with all but local users.
May 18 - 24 - Organic search continues to outperform the average traffic recovery. Sessions here have risen 20 percent in the past week as well. Within this channel, local traffic is recovering more slowly than fly or drive, which we would expect with so much of local activity centering on events. The South is now in positive territory, driven by the success of pages dedicated to delivering coronavirus shutdown updates. All regions are looking better all the time.
May 25 - 31 - While organic search is still doing better than average DMO web traffic, it lost much of its lead this week, with both drive and fly markets falling off compared to last year while locals stayed fairly steady. Organic search sessions fell 17 percent since 5/24 with the holiday in the past. Regionally, the South and the West continue to be among the strongest regions, but the Northeast has put up the steadiest growth and is now under 30 percent losses for organic sessions YoY. The Midwest, unfortunately, is now clearly lagging behind the other regions.
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.
March 11 - March 19 - Paid traffic to DMO websites saw a -76.6 percent decrease as DMOs began turning off or reducing paid media campaigns.
April 12 - April 19 - Paid sessions have fallen farther than other channels as DMOs have reasonably decided to save their budgets for a time when users are able to book travel with confidence. With such a low floor to rise from, paid search traffic has begun to rise a little faster than organic sessions, up 41 percent over the last week. Now may be a good time to prepare paid campaigns to place your destination in front of newly hopeful travelers.
April 20 - April 26 - Having been reduced to almost zero, paid search sessions have plenty of room to grow and are doing so. Driven largely by a few southern destinations turning their paid campaigns back on, overall paid search sessions grew by 7 percent per day and 58 percent overall over the past week. Intelligently, the DMOs reengaging with paid search are focusing on fly market visitors who might be planning now for post-shutdown travel.
April 27 - May 3 - Once, again, Paid Search sessions grew faster than other segment last week, as more and more DMOs turn this channel back on. Growth was 29 percent (3.7 percent per day) for this metric, with the American South continuing to lead the charge by an ever-growing margin. The West and Midwest are starting to creep up as well, though.
May 4 - 10 - Paid traffic rose just 0.5 percent between May 3 and May 10, with every geographic region in our study looking flat. DMOs still have not turned traffic back on for local markets, focusing instead on drive and fly markets. Since this traffic is often focused around events and in-market topics, it makes sense to wait for greater easing of social distancing to pursue it.
May 11 - 17 - Paid search traffic is coming on strong, rising 30 percent over the past week and 3.8 percent per day. Now that tourism is becoming a tangible possibility, it makes sense to start spending to capture users again. DMOs are not yet going after local audiences with paid search ads, but other segments are rising, down only -50 percent from last year now. The US south is driving this trend for the industry almost single-handedly.
May 18 - 24 - Paid search traffic rose only 13 percent over the past week, with the gains in the South leveling off. However, more regions, such as the Northeast and Midwest, are showing signs of returning to this channel. The opportunity to jump into the market before competing destinations do remains available.
May 25 - 31 - Paid search traffic fell 10 percent throughout the week, largely due to a pullback on Memorial Day spending in the South. Destinations in the Midwest and Northeast actually increased their spending significantly after Memorial Day, but it wasn't enough to counteract the southern retrenchment.
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, daily searches bottomed out on April 4, showing an 85% decline in daily searches. Since then, searches have increased by 664% into late May. However, even though searches have been increasing, May still shows a 51% decrease in searches year-over-year (YOY).
March 20 showed a 81% decrease in daily referrals YOY. Since March 20, referrals have stabilized and have increased by nearly 796% through late May; However, even though referrals are increasing rapidly, this is mostly influenced by hotel listing referrals. Overall, May still shows a 6% decrease in referrals YOY.
As searches and referrals have been impacted, so has the booking window. On February 28, visitors were searching 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. Since April 5, the booking window has been shortening and May shows comparable booking windows to 2019 where people are currently looking at trips 55 days out, targeting the middle to end of July.
Length of Stay
The length of stay has also been impacted. March 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 from 4.09 in 2019 to 4.8 in 2020. And May 2020 is currently showing a 11% longer stay from 4.04 in 2019 to 4.5 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.