Wow! Australian sites are getting hammered by global juggernauts – that’s the biggest take-out from the 2014 edition of Hottest 100 travel websites from Experian Hitwise and TravelTrends.biz.
It shows the global OTAs and meta-search sites like TripAdvisor, Booking.com, Agoda, Hotels.com. Expedia, Skyscanner and Trivago have all the momentum, growing at five or six times the rate of Aussie sites.
TripAdvisor.com.au – #2 behind Google Maps – in particular is killing it, growing 18% over the past year to record more than 10m visits during August 2014.
These stats put it on another level with a huge gap to site #3, Qantas.com.au, on 6.8m August visits – more than -3m less than TripAdvisor.
Clearly everything’s going TripAdvisor’s way – why?
For mine, the big factor is content.
No other site apart from Google has more, or is creating it quite so quickly or effectively.
Thousands of new searchable pages are being created every day by TripAdvisor reviewers – the company doesn’t have to do a thing.
Meanwhile, TripAdvisor’s transition to a hotel meta-search business model has been seamless and the site is stickier than it ever has been.
Another inevitably impressive performer was #5 website Booking.com, which last year became Australia’s top-ranked OTA for the first time.
Booking.com grew swiftly at +16%, pulling away from its nearest OTA rivals, #7 Webjet (+3%) and #8 Wotif (+1%).
The weak traffic growth of Webjet and Wotif typified the generally poor domestic performance of long-term local brands.
Holiday rental Stayz, for example, came in at #16 with an increase in visits of just 2%.
It looks like new owner HomeAway, which bought the site last December from Fairfax Media for AUD220m, has had little impact on what’s been a long-term trend at Stayz.
An interesting exception to the domestic rule was Australian travel retail giant, Flight Centre.
Site traffic for Flightcentre.com.au grew 8%, making it the #14th ranked site overall.
What sets Flight Centre apart in terms of online growth?
The answer is probably marketing.
Flight Centre has much bigger advertising budgets than the struggling local travel sites.
Wotif’s lack of firepower in this area has been well-reported.
No such problems of course at well-entrenched OTA market leader Booking.com, which Hitwise says is getting more than 6m visitors a month, more than 2m ahead of Webjet and Wotif.
Another way to put it – Booking has 50% more visitors a month than the immediate competition.
And at their present respective trajectories, the gap will grow wider unless something happens to change the dynamic; extremely unlikely.
Meanwhile, times were generally tough on the aviation front – low cost carriers a notable exception.
In budget carrier land, a resurgent #19 Tiger Airways grew 67% off the back of new services, while #18 AirAsia also did well (+21%).
All the top airline site numbers went backwards in terms of numbers: #3 Qantas -4%, #6 Jetstar -7%, #10 Virgin Australia -13% despite greater capacity over the previous August.
Elsewhere Singapore dropped -6%, Emirates was down -14% and visits to can’t-take-a-trick #74 Malaysia Airlines fell -23%.
Sure there were a couple of good performers (eg #42 Air NZ grew traffic 23% and #63 Cathay Pacific was up 45%) but generally online aviation was down over the previous year.
Why? Here are a couple of theories:
- More consumers are buying their fares through OTAs
- Or they are researching fares more heavily through meta-search sites before hitting the airlines
Certainly the well-funded meta-search sites are going gangbusters, supporting this second theory.
#17 Skyscanner Australia traffic doubled year on year to 1.9m visits during August while #27 Trivago, which has been advertising heavily on TV, trebled its monthly traffic, up by 293% to 1.1m.
On the accommodation meta-search side, #31 HotelsCombined ‘s numbers increased 38%.
It’s worth noting the HotelsCombined – which has always had a global perspective – grew faster than any other major Australia travel site.
No coincidence that it is also advertising heavily with its ubiquitous TV ads clearly working.
Moving further down the Hottest 100, the airline and OTA sites start making way to niche providers such as car and cruise.
A standout performer here has been Rentalcars.com, where traffic grew 81% propelling it from #100 last year to #56 this August.
No surprise. It’s part of the Priceline Group, which also owns Booking.com and Agoda.
This makes it the most popular of all the car rental sites and the only niche OTA in the Hottest 100.
In the cruising sector, Carnival Australia properties dominate with the P&O Cruises and Princes Cruises sites the highest ranked at #49 and #51 respectively.
Its nearest competitor, Royal Caribbean, came in at #85.
There were no cruise OTAs in the Hottest 100.
Maybe this shows that while cruise is enjoying spectacular growth, the sector still hasn’t got its act together in terms of the web and online distribution.
Another perspective is that perhaps this cruise OTA void presents an opportunity for a new, aggressive player in this space.
On the accommodation front, Australia’s largest hoteliers Accor #40 and Mantra Group #88 did best, their results reflecting the number of properties they each operate.
IHG also made an appearance at #98.
No surprise that the biggest mover in the accommodation OTA space was #96 Airbnb.com.au, where traffic grew 931%, from 25,979 visits in August, 2013, to 267,877 this year.
#23 Hotels.com also did well, increasing visits by 37% over the year.
But of course, where there are winners, there are also losers.
Notable omissions from this year’s list include past strong performers such as:
- BestFlights: #36 last year but controversially killed off by its owner Helloworld, the retail travel conglomerate. All BestFlights traffic now points to Helloworld.com.au, which is getting far fewer visits at #93.
- TotalTravel: #35 last year and like BestFlights always represented. But not this year. Its fall from grace since being purchased from the founders by Yahoo! now seems complete.
- Jetabroad: #83 in 2013, Jetabroad has been a Hottest 100 fixture, but not this year.
- Wego: #70 last year and another perennial. Perhaps a reflection of its Asian focus. You don’t see the Wego brand in the Australian market as much as you used to.
In conclusion, this year’s Hottest 100 shows that the Australian travel web has never been tougher.
Commitment, imagination and major marketing budgets are required to cut through.
And global experience and perspective certainly seems to help.
Here is the Hottest 100 for 2014:
|Google Maps Australia||maps.google.com.au||30,331,014|
|TripAdvisor – Australia||www.tripadvisor.com.au||10,099,993|
|Public Transport Victoria||www.ptv.vic.gov.au||3,381,649|
|NSW – Roads and Maritime Services (RMS)||www.rms.nsw.gov.au||1,551,482|
|Qantas – Frequent Flyer||www.qantasfrequentflyer.com.au||1,170,008|
|Western Australian Department of Transport||www.transport.wa.gov.au||837,449|
|Air New Zealand – Australia||www.airnewzealand.com.au||683,128|
|Time Out Australia||www.au.timeout.com||649,945|
|Visit New South Wales||www.visitnsw.com||639,972|
|P&O Cruises Australia||www.pocruises.com.au||528,118|
|STA Travel Australia||www.statravel.com.au||524,981|
|NSW Transport and Infrastructure||www.transport.nsw.gov.au||518,178|
|Travel Groupon Australia||travel.groupon.com.au||479,558|
|Metro Trains Melbourne||www.metrotrains.com.au||423,267|
|Cheap Flights Australia and New Zealand||www.cheapflights.com.au||395,579|
|Velocity Frequent Flyer||www.velocityfrequentflyer.com||376,079|
|Go Behind The Scenery||www.gobehindthescenery.com.au||372,134|
|Perisher Blue Ski Resort||www.perisherblue.com.au||343,981|
|Budget Rent A Car Australia||www.budget.com.au||335,757|
|Avis Rent A Car Australia||www.avis.com.au||329,210|
|Australian Business Traveller||www.ausbt.com.au||304,273|
|AGFG (Australian Good Food & Travel Guide)||www.agfg.com.au||302,867|
|Travel Online Australia||www.travelonline.com||290,915|
|I Want That Flight!||www.iwantthatflight.com.au||279,822|
|Thrifty Car Rental Australia||www.thrifty.com.au||277,451|