Google is quickly morphing into the 800-pound gorilla of travel.
Airlines and hotel booking websites saw a significant surge in referral traffic from the search giant in 2019, according to new data from SimilarWeb. The increase underscores the extent to which Google services are becoming further embedded into every aspect of the travel ecosphere, from initial searches on through to the booking process. Search referral traffic is an important metric for hotel and airline websites because it can lead to more “conversions”—industry-speak for website visitors taking some kind of action, like actually buying things.
And two of the biggest airlines saw the biggest increases in Google-referred traffic. American Airlines had 840,000 monthly U.S. desktop search visits outbound from Google last year, compared to only 685,000 the year before, SimilarWeb’s data shows. Delta Air Lines was not far behind, with 835,000 in 2019 compared to 690,000 in 2018.
By contrast, United Airlines saw a slight dip in 2019 compared to 2018, while a handful of smaller airlines—Southwest, JetBlue, and Norwegian, among others—did not see significant changes.
The difference is even more stark when looking at converted visits, with American Airlines seeing a 37% increase in monthly converted U.S. visits last year and Delta seeing a 21% increase.
The data was published today as part of SimilarWeb’s 2020 Digital Trends report. Overall, the analytics firm showed Google Flights referrals jumped 16% in 2016 with 24% more conversions. Hotel traffic jumped even more dramatically—600% with 550% more conversions.
Those numbers are not likely to quell criticism of Google’s growing travel dominance. In November, both TripAdvisor and Expedia voiced concerns about how Google displays information in search results, saying it favors its own products. Google, for its part, has routinely denied that it plays favorites in search results. Nevertheless, both TripAdvisor and Expedia saw their shares drop sharply late last year, and neither company has fully recovered.
You can check out SimilarWeb’s full report here.