Expedia Group and Booking Holdings slashed marketing by $6B in 2020 (but Airbnb now makes an entrance)

The combined marketing muscle of Expedia Group and Booking Holdings fell to its lowest level in years during a pandemic-slammed 2020.

The pair spent $4.7 billion of sales and marketing in 2020, down almost 60% on the figures they produced in the record-breaking 2019.

Such a slump in what is usually a critically important line item on their respective expenditure sheets should not come as a big shock to industry watchers given the impact of the coronavirus outbreak in early-2020.

Booking Holdings cut marketing spend from $4.97 billion in 2019 to $2.2 billion last year – a cut of 55% year-over-year.

The company’s fierce competitor Expedia Group chopped the same costs even deeper with a 57% decrease from $6.07 billion in 2019 to $2.5 billion in 2020.

The body check on marketing spend by the two giants of online travel in 2020 ends a run of gradually slowing increases in prior years.

The pair spent $9.8 billion in 2017, then $10.6 billion in 2018 and the high of $11 billion in 2019.

Those figures for Booking Holdings and Expedia Group were continually scrutinized against the backdrop of Google’s ongoing creep into booking partnerships (flights and accommodation) and dominance in search listings.

Google will have felt a financial squeeze of sorts from losing out on the best part of $6.3 billion in marketing from the duo in 2020 – but it is unlikely that such low levels of spend will be maintained in the early phases of 2021 as travel begins to resume at some sort of scale and marketing to support it comes back into vogue.

New battles

Any return to business-as-usual on the marketing front for Expedia Group and Booking Holdings during 2021 will also feature the addition of a new player on the scene – at least in terms of understanding what is and what isn’t being spent to compete with their marketing strategies.

Airbnb, which went public in December last year, has taken a different path when looking to bring in new customers to the company and maintain its strong brand recognition.

The private accommodation platform has famously avoided playing in the performance marketing game of pay-per-click advertising that has been favored by its self-proposed new competitors for years.

But spending big does seem to be a strategy, as it disclosed in its debut earnings report for the fourth quarter of 2020.

Airbnb splashed out a modest $630 million on sales and marketing in Q4, an increase of 44% on the same period in 2019.

Its rivals didn’t come close, with $386 million and $511 million for Booking Holdings and Expedia Group respectively.

The newbie to the public markets has already taken a proactive approach to 2021, with it unveiling a flashy new global branding exercise (“our first large-scale marketing campaign in five years”) in a bid to capture new hosts.

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