Consumer behavior shifts occur often, given economic changes, current affairs, and other unforeseen disruptions. However, the shifts seen in hospitality local consumer search behavior over the past two years are a reminder that your hotel’s local strategy must continually evolve.
Keeping a pulse on how others are performing in your industry is one way to recognize ongoing trends and benchmark your success. That’s why each year, we release an annual study on how COVID-19 and other external factors impact Google Search trends for enterprise brands.
Methodology Used in the Study
In the study, Rio SEO analyzed local search data for more than 205,000 U.S. business locations over the span of 2021. These locations were organized into eight diverse categories including:
- Service Businesses
- Financial Services
- Sit-Down Restaurants
- Quick-Service Restaurants
- Multi-family Residential
For each business location, we tracked:
- Clicks on a MapPack listing
- Clicks to a website
- Local organic search volume
- Clicks for driving directions
- Clicks to make a phone call
- Local search (Map Pack) views
- Direct local search volume
- Discovery local search volume
In visualizing the impact of the pandemic on local search volume and clicks to call, get driving directions, or visit a website, we get a clearer picture of the level and type of disruption to local businesses when in-store restrictions are imposed.
For the purpose of this blog, we will cover hospitality local consumer search behavior specifically. Download our free study to dive deeper into the other verticals we studied.
Hospitality Local Metrics Breakdown in 2020-2021
Similar to restaurant brands, hospitality brands also saw a volatile 2020. In fact, the U.S. hotel industry suffered its worst year on record in 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic severely impacted business travel and vacations became increasingly difficult to take. With an occupancy rate of just 44%, the industry surpassed 1 billion unsold room nights for the first time in history, eclipsing the 786 million that went unsold during the global financial crisis in 2009. In March of 2020, listing views for hotels were down 53% MoM, and by April 2020, they were down even further by 63% MoM.
Hospitality brands in 2021 were tasked with making necessary COVID-19 adaptations to accommodate evolve, virtual tours, creating a digital environment for consumers to picture themselves in the hotel, and limited cleaning services for multi-day stays.
Google also enabled 100 new ‘Hotel attributes’ with the GMB API 4.8 update in January 2021. This update allows hoteliers to select the amenities and services offered at their property and their room details. Google also opened up Hotel Booking Links, making what was a paid feature free for hotels to use.
Overall, the U.S. hotel industry reported total-year revenue per available room (RevPAR) was 83.2% of the pre-pandemic comparable, making a big comeback from 2020. In April 2021, hotel listing views were up an impressive 331% and searches were up 371% YoY. These triple-digit gains in views and searches remained strong from April through September 2021. Total clicks saw double- and triple-digit gains from March until the end of 2021.
In the first quarter of 2022, we’ve seen hospitality metrics continue to rise month-over-month. In February 2022, the hospitality vertical was the only vertical to see positive growth across all metrics we measure for all eight verticals we study on a monthly basis. The World Tourism Council forecast that by the end of 2021, the travel sector in the US will have risen 35.6% from 2020. 2022 would see it grow by another 28.4%, presuming a continued comeback.
COVID-19’s Impact on Local Search Behavior
COVID-19 continued its worldwide spread in 2021 and accelerated with more contagious variants. On November 26, 2021, the World Health Organization (WHO) classified a new variant, B.1.1.529, as a Variant of Concern and named it Omicron. On November 30, 2021, the United States also classified it as a Variant of Concern.
In 2021, however, we also saw the rollout of vaccines at the start of this year. This marked a noticeable turning point in a pandemic that created mass devastation for consumers and businesses alike throughout almost the entirety of 2020.
In March of 2021, President Biden said that every US adult will have access to a COVID-19 vaccine by the end of May. The president also called for every state to ensure that teachers, child care providers, and school staff receive at least 1 dose by April. As more consumers had access to COVID-19 vaccines, all industries studied saw a large lift in search views, total searches, and total clicks in March 2021. This was the most significant lift in Google Search metrics seen throughout all of 2021.
Prior to Omicron sweeping the globe in fall, businesses saw restrictions ease in late spring. By the end of May CDC data showed the risk of COVID-19 infection among fully vaccinated individuals was 0.01%. The news came on the heels of the announcement that the United States has fully vaccinated more than half of its adult population. Mask requirements were lifted in many states, more consumers felt comfortable being indoors. Search trends followed suit.
In May, service businesses saw a staggering 97% increase month-over-month (MoM) in views. Similarly, hotels saw an 89% increase.
How was consumer search behavior affected in different industries by COVID-19?
Each of the industries studied faced its unique set of challenges as well as opportunities amid the pandemic. For example, financial services clients, such as mortgage brokers, saw record years in 2020.
Sit-down and quick-service restaurants are two of the most impacted verticals we’ve studied. Online ordering has quickly become essential for restaurant owners. Nearly all full-service restaurants (95%) using one or more online ordering platforms. Loyalty programs also saw a major uptick during the pandemic. Two in five operators implemented their loyalty programs in the last one to two years.
Phone calls to businesses were up in 2020. This aligns with consumers who were calling to confirm hours, services available, and if products were in stock. In 2021, phone calls trended down across all verticals as lockdown concerns dissipated. Clicks for driving directions saw significant downturns at the start of 2020. They picked back up again and remained relatively steady throughout the remainder of 2020 and into 2021 as consumers became more comfortable shopping in-store.
Download the study for even more in-depth insights.