This past year, we’ve seen some striking changes in summer travel trends. While traditionally favored destinations like the US, Canada, the UK, France, and the Mediterranean continue to attract a steady stream of vacationers, new regions are rapidly increasing in popularity. One reason for this shift seems to be the lure of global sporting events, such as the Olympics and the World Cup. The World Cup, in particular, appears to offer a powerful draw to fans who want to see their team compete live and in person. For instance, after hosting the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Russia saw a staggering 200% increase in popularity as a summer travel destination.

World Cup Booking Trends

With 32 teams qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, it’s no surprise that the games attracted more than three million attendees. And when it comes to World Cup travel trends, as one might expect, there is a correlation between a country’s success and an increase in that country’s travelers. For instance, after Sweden made it to the quarterfinals at the World Cup for the first time since 1994, there was a more than 800% increase in Swedish travel to Russia. Similarly, because Brazil was a tournament favorite, the country saw a more than 1000% increase in travel to Russia. However, the country with the largest spike in travelers visiting Russia this summer was Mexico, whose team made it to Round 16 before losing to Brazil.

Another interesting travel trend this summer included spikes of World Cup attendance from countries that lost early in the tournament, such as:

  • Argentina: 523% increase ⇧
  • Australia: 426% increase ⇧
  • Colombia: 417% increase ⇧
  • Japan: 379% increase ⇧
  • Iceland: 353% increase ⇧

There was even an increase in attendees from countries whose teams didn’t qualify for the World Cup, like the US and China, as US and China travel to Russia jumped 491% and 379%, respectively. Since this global event only happens every four years, we can assume that for these travelers to Russia, the desire to experience the World Cup outweighed even the hope of cheering on their favorite team to victory.

YoY Summer Booking Increases to Russia by Country

Summer Bookings to Russia Increase for 2018 World Cup

The travel booking habits for the World Cup are also intriguing when you consider both the number and diversity of the travelers and the complicated lottery process to purchase tickets. (This process is similar to the one that is implemented for the Summer and Winter Olympic games). The lottery process works in three phases:

  1. The first phase enabled people to purchase tournament tickets six months ahead of the tournament.
  2. The second phase made another block of tickets available three months out.
  3. And the final phase made tickets available a month ahead of time and allowed the purchase of tickets until the last day of the competition.

Not surprisingly, there were small spikes in bookings coinciding with the ticket lottery sales windows, with 50% of bookings made within 90 days of the tournament start. However, the largest spike in bookings was during the week leading up to the tournament, accounting for more than 20% of bookings. This is an interesting takeaway for travel marketers that are looking to capitalize on the revenue opportunities made available during global sporting events like the World Cup and Olympics. Unlike the typical travel booking curve, which sees 50% of bookings made within six months of the trip, travel marketers need to optimize their campaigns for the 90-day window ahead of these events with a particularly aggressive push during the seven days leading up to the event.

How the World Cup Influenced Travel Trends

Takeaways for Travel Advertisers

Below are five additional best practices for travel marketers to consider in preparation for future sporting events:

  1. Consider where traffic will originate when setting a budget and maintain a flexible funding model. Success in the tournament had a high direct impact on where traffic originated from and ultimately converted. Advertising spends can be divided and optimized by originating country. When considering events like the World Cup, highly seeded countries will see spikes in converting traffic leading up to the event.
  2. Ensure your property is visible for searches that overlap with the event schedule. This can be accomplished on metasearch by leveraging booking window bid levers.
  3. As we know price parity is the primary factor that travelers consider when booking a room. Ensure that your data, prices, and availability are 100% accurate during the event’s timeline. Distribution and connectivity issues can lose potential customers.
  4. A proactive approach to budgeting and bidding will maximize the opportunity. Ahead of ticket sales, be sure to remove any bid or spend caps that may preclude you from maintaining visibility. The adequate budget should be made available at least 90 days before the event.
  5. Curtail overspend by paying close attention to occupancy rates. Hotels that have limited or no availability should be removed from the marketing mix to avoid inefficient investment.

To learn more about how major events impacted the travel industry this year, download our free report, Travel Index: Event Trends.

Download the Travel Index

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