Travel Trend Research Using Google Trends

The travel industry is experiencing new challenges with the increasing price of fuel, worsening airport delays and the weak US dollar. Fortunately, vacationers are getting smarter instead of giving up and staying home. They are comparing domestic and foreign currencies to help choose destinations, comparing road vs. air travel, purchasing all-inclusive travel packages and even rediscovering travel destinations close to home. But where is everyone going, and more importantly, what types of destinations are attracting them?

Google Trends is an online tool that offers insight into travel trends around the world. The tool is provided by Google Labs and shows comparisons of popularity for different search phrases. Try it for yourself: go to Google Trends (see the link at the end of this article), copy “business travel, vacation travel, holiday travel” (with commas but without quotes) into the text box and hit the Search Trends button.

Do you see a graph with a colored line for each of the three phrases you entered? Notice the years listed along the x-axis, including tick marks at each quarter year. Google Trends uses the first phrase in your list as a baseline for comparison to the remaining phrases. Can you see how interest in vacation and holiday travel is higher than interest in business travel?

Seasonal trends vary for the different travel types. For example, interest in vacation travel is highest in January and steadily declines toward December. Holiday travel follows a similar trend except for a large surge in interest during midyear (meaning summer in the northern hemisphere). Business travel has constant popularity throughout the year except for a drop in December, when weary road warriors spend more time with family for the holidays.

Now let’s look at regional interest for your search phrases. Near the bottom of the page, change the selection in the “Rank by” drop-down list, then look at the regions with the most searches for those phrases (remember, these are the places where online searches originated, not the places where people want to visit). You’ll see “vacation travel” is a popular phrase in Canada, the USA and the United Kingdom, while “holiday travel” is popular in the UK, Ireland, New Zealand and Australia. This knowledge can help you identify important keywords for target audiences in different regions.

It’s important to understand that the data in Google Trends is normalized, meaning the results are ranked in comparison to all searches for the given area. This keeps areas with high populations from overwhelming the results in comparison to other regions. The benefit is you can estimate the percent interest from a region’s population independently of the size of the population. In our example, there might be more people in New York than London searching for “business travel”, but according to Google Trends, a higher percentage of London’s than New York’s population is interested in business travel.