In the ever-evolving digital landscape, hotels must constantly prepare for change. However, the demise of tracking cookies has created an unprecedented shift, with a recent YouGov survey by Adform finding that only 33% of marketers say they're well prepared for the end of cookies as we know them. Further, only 36% have found a solution that replaces their reliance on cookie-based marketing strategies that dominate bottom-of-funnel conversion tactics for many hotels.
The impending elimination of tracking cookies (yes, you've heard this before! And even though Google has pushed back the deadline twice, we know it's coming) will revolutionize the travel industry in more ways than one. While some view this change skeptically, savvy hoteliers will recognize the silver lining. Read on to explore why the end of tracking cookies can be a positive development for hotels.
First, what is a tracking cookie, and where are they going?
A tracking cookie is a small piece of data stored on a user's device. It's usually found in your browser properties or cache (you've likely heard the term "clear your cache"). Initially created to track and remember information about a user's online behavior, cookies allowed brands, like hotels, to retarget them with relevant offers and messaging. But, as the sayings go, all good things must end.
With growing concerns about online privacy, consumers and legislators have become far more critical about how their data is collected and used. In response to customer concerns, at the beginning of 2021, Apple made an unprecedented move toward a more privacy-centric online experience.
Apple's iOS14 update allowed users to opt out of apps tracking their activity. According to Flurry Analytics from Verizon Media, 96% of U.S. users chose to opt out of tracking after the update. Since apps could no longer follow their online behavior, ad targeting became less personalized (and less effective).
While the cookie's crumbling creates challenges for hotel marketers still relying on Google Ads, paid social advertising, and other bottom-of-the-barrel marketing tactics, there's also a silver lining for hoteliers focused on building their brand by making a strong impression on prospective guests long before check-in.
Leveling the Playing Field
While large hotel chains employ sophisticated digital advertising tactics, eliminating tracking cookies levels the playing field for thousands of boutique and independent hotels to create a competitive advantage. Instead of relying solely on over-thought targeting, hotels of every size (whether a 300-room luxury flag supported by a big corporate budget or a 20-room boutique with a shoestring budget) must differentiate themselves through the unique stories they can tell about their properties and offerings that get travelers obsessing about their next trip and prompt them to begin planning for it.
Focusing on Quality Content
As tracking cookies fade away, hotels must shift their focus from targeted advertising to attracting high-quality guests with commensurately high-quality content. This paradigm shift encourages hoteliers to invest in content creation with media brands, such as Condé Nast Traveler, Food & Wine, Travel + Leisure, PureWow, and more. By relying on reviews and sharing their property's unique stories rather than targeted thumbnail ads, hotels can spark travel planning across large audiences before they've selected a destination or hotel for their next trip, driving more qualified traffic to the hotel website.
Encouraging Direct Bookings
Tracking cookies have long been a tool for online travel agencies (OTAs) to target users whose internet behavior has signaled an interest in particular destinations or hotels. Hotels that invest in upper-funnel content, such as the media brands mentioned above, can optimize their websites with "as seen in" logos and share content across social media, nurturing leads and enticing them to book directly – capturing more share of voice from OTAs and the millions they spend annually on paid advertising.
Building Customer Loyalty
Without the crutch of tracking cookies, hotels must adopt more customer-centric strategies. From understanding guests' unique needs and preferences to tailoring services accordingly, hotels that invest in personalized experiences can foster long-term relationships and build a base of loyal customers who return for the quality of service and the genuine connection they feel with the brand.
So, what's next?
Cookies were never the best solution for hotel marketers as they're a race to the bottom where they're left to compete on last touch (luck-based), price (not a strategy), and location (which is immovable). While cookies store data for 7-30 days, most travel planning journeys to premier destinations take at least 45-90 days to culminate in a travel plan, making tracking cookies highly ineffective for the premium segment of the travel industry. Regardless, with Google's complete phaseout of cookies slated for the end of 2024, the time for hotels to plan for a cookie-free future is now.
With 76% of internet users finding content more valuable than traditional advertising (according to the Content Marketing Institute), the elimination of the cookie makes now the perfect time to learn about how gaining exposure for your hotel across media brands, from legacy publishers like Condé Nast Traveler to online media outlets like Fathom, can dramatically expand your reach and fuel direct bookings.