The role of metasearches during an economic downturn

Spain: Rentals United CEO James Burrows analyses how metasearches could become property managers’ best source of bookings during these uncertain times and why they are proving so popular right now with travellers, utilising exclusive insight from Holidu and HomeToGo.

In the past few months, metasearches have been gaining popularity. Booking channels that aggregate listings from thousands of websites are experiencing a huge jump in traveller interest.

We started seeing this trend in our own data, so we decided to dig a little deeper. We asked Holidu and HomeToGo to give us some first-hand insight on why metasearches are doing comparatively well these days, what booking trends they are seeing, and how property managers can optimise their listings on metasearches. Here is what they had to say:

The role of metasearches during an economic downturn

The Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent economic crisis brought the travel industry to a halt – but only for a while. Certain parts of the world are already recovering, albeit some quicker than others. In areas where travel restrictions have been lifted and the most eager travellers are back on the road, demand for vacation rentals is surging.

However, travellers’ priorities have changed, and their booking habits reflect this. We have seen a growing interest in domestic travel and a shift towards extended stays, with travellers booking on local listing sites and niche channels specialising in longer stays, respectively.

But what about metasearches? What role do they play in this new travel environment characterised by shifting traveller behaviours? In an economic crisis when money is tight, people seek out the cheapest ways to quench their thirst for travel. So, it is safe to assume that the number one driving force behind travellers choosing metasearches is the ability to compare prices and get the best deals out there.

HomeToGo’s head of inbound marketing, Joe Baur, said: “It makes complete sense that travellers would be extra cost-conscious right now. As a booking channel with the world’s largest search for vacation rentals, we compare over 18 million offers from more than 1,300 vacation home websites. That means travellers have the best opportunity with HomeToGo to find a vacation rental that fits their budget.”

Next to finding a budget-friendly rental, travellers also want flexibility in case they need to change their plans. Metasearches are able to address this need, too.

Enrique Planas, team lead business development southern Europe at Holidu, said: “Holidu provides its customers with the best price for a given property, often with flexible cancellation policies. Allowing access to affordable alternatives, while at the same time reducing the risk of losing money due to cancellations caused by the market volatility during Covid-19.”

Current travel trends as seen by HomeToGo and Holidu

Now that we have seen why travellers are turning to vacation rental metasearch engines during these uncertain times, let us take a look at what types of guests these booking channels target and what booking trends they are seeing. Holidu’s main destinations are Mediterranean and Atlantic coastlines and islands, remote inland leisure destinations, the Alps and other mountains. Their top destinations have not changed much since the beginning of the pandemic, however, they too have seen a growth in the ‘staycations’ or domestic travel trend [drive-to destinations] and a significant increase in last-minute bookings.

Planas said: “Our travellers are mainly European families [33 per cent Mediterranean, 30 per cent Germans, 14 per cent Nordics and UK, six per cent Benelux].

“In general, they travel to beach and ski resorts destinations and their average length of stay is 6.8 nights. In July, we had more than 25 million website visits from European travellers on our sites.”

While Holidu focuses mainly on the European market, HomeToGo has a strong presence in the United States, too.

Baur said: “HomeToGo attracts families, couples, and groups in roughly equal measure. Travellers who use HomeToGo are primarily looking to spend a little more on average for a multi-day stay at a vacation rental.”

The past few months have brought changes to how far people travel and how long they stay.

According to HomeToGo’s data:

Baur said: “Americans are generally travelling for about five days. Europeans, on the other hand, are travelling for around eight days, which is a slight year-over-year decrease. Americans are, on average, travelling approximately 445 miles to their booked destination. That’s down by nine per cent from 2019 and 21 per cent from 2018. And right now, pools and the ability to bring pets are two of the most popular amenities among travellers in the United States.”

Some US states are seeing an unprecedented surge in bookings as Covid-19 measures start to ease. According to HomeToGo’s observations, rural / coastal destinations have been extremely popular over the past month.

Baur said: “Several destinations in Cape Cod, Massachusetts were in our top-booked destinations for July. Massachusetts in general has seen a significant surge in search interest year-over-year – more than any other destination in the United States. Nebraska, North Dakota, Iowa and Oklahoma have also seen large gains in search interest compared to the same time last year.”

As for Europe, countries that have opened their borders to tourists are seeing the effects of pent-up demand, too.

Baur added: “Europeans are similarly interested in rural destinations with Italy doing especially well both in July and year-over-year. Some of the biggest gains in year-over-year search interest are in Italy. And while most countries are favoring domestic travel, we saw a shift among German travellers in July. Now more German travellers are searching for international travel than domestic. Our other top European markets, however, are still showing high domestic search interests.”

How to optimise listings on vacation rental metasearch engines

We asked both metasearches what their most successful listings have in common. Here is what they said:

As Planas told us, property managers should focus on adding flexible cancellation policies, pet-friendly rules to their listings, and making sure they have an updated calendar in order to be able to receive last-minute bookings.

Baur’s advice to property managers is that they should figure out who their guests are [the type of traveller they usually cater to may have shifted!] and upload high-resolution photos that reflect the amenities these travellers are looking for.

Baur said: “Urban destinations might be catering to more frontline workers who need access to public transportation and a contactless handover. Digital nomads and remote workers are going to need strong wifi, a desk and access to takeaway food. Families heading out of town will want board games, a grill and a pool throughout the summer.”

As the world scrambles to figure out how recovery in their sectors and regions is going to pan out, travellers’ appetite for travel will rebound fully. For now, metasearches seem to be leading the way to assist travellers to fulfill the diverse travel needs they are looking for.