Google’s Growing Travel Arsenal

FrommersBooks

Image from: Frommer’s Books / Phandroid

Google recently announced it will acquire all the assets of Frommer’s for $23 million from John Wiley & Sons, which acquired it in 2001.  Frommer’s bills itself as “the most trusted name in travel today” and notes that its website, Frommers.com, is “an essential online destination for those planning the perfect travel excursion” (Frommers.com).  The Frommer’s buy comes after a failed attempt to buy Yelp, whose reviews were featured on Google Maps.

The Frommer’s purchase comes on the heels of Google’s purchase of Zagat last year.  Both purchases are efforts by Google to cement its place in the online travel space, which encompasses hundreds of billions of dollars in bookings each year in the US alone.  Google may use the brand names and review content from these purchases to drive traffic to the Google travel tools.  For example, Zagat reviews are included on Google+ Places/Pages.   They may also use the names and sites as forums for social media to complement professionally written reviews.  Google also has the opportunity to drive traffic from Google to Frommers.com and Zagat.com, both of which generate some of their revenue from advertisements.

To identify the digital whitespace of these brands, Compete evaluated unique visitors to each property’s site over the past two years.  The past two years are unique in the digital travel space as they represent the slow recovery from the biggest recession in the digital age.

Compete assessed site traffic through leveraging our patented ability to gather and normalize in-market behavior across the internet.  We focused on unique visitors (UVs), which avoids double counting consumers (i.e., no false positives) and is far more robust than simple cookie-based systems.

Frommer’s a Relatively More Powerful Buy

Across the period, Frommers.com had an average of 675,000 unique visitors per month, with a peak of 800,000 in May 2011.  That traffic is a step up from Zagat.com, which averaged 376,000 UVs and peaked at 476,000 in August 2010.

Unique Visitors to Frommers.com and Zagat.com

The fact each site’s peak occurred more than a year ago may be a concern.  The US economy has been recovering, driving a travel industry recovery, which suggests that Frommers.com and Zagat.com peak traffic should have been more recent.

The drivers of this apparent anomaly may lie in the growing presence of TripAdvisor. Many see the Google buys of Frommer’s and Zagat as ammunition in an all out war against TripAdvisor through leveraging the Frommer’s and Zagat brand names and review content with Google’s unmatched online footprint.

Zagat Google + Page

TripAdvisor Sets a High Bar

Let’s suppose Google is considering transforming Frommers.com into a TripAdvisor.  Our next assessment reveals how much Frommers.com would need to grow.  Over the past 24 months, TripAdvisor has had 21 times the unique visitors of Frommers.com (and 38 times zagat.com’s).  More specifically, TripAdvisor has averaged 14.1 million unique visitors each month to Frommers.com’s 675,000.

Averaged Unique Visitors to TripAdvisor.com, Frommers.com, Zagat.com

Let’s Review

Clearly Google’s intended buy of Frommer’s is not for the current traffic levels on Frommers.com.  But it may be for the potential traffic there and the integration of Frommer’s content on Google.  Here are ways to reveal that potential:

  • Identify how many consumers have engaged with Zagat content on Google over time as a benchmark for integrating Frommer’s content
  • Reveal the potential for consumer-generated content by detailing traffic to the “forum” and similar pages on Frommers.com and the extent to which in-market travel consumers use this content
  • Using behavioral profiles, quantify key differences in online characteristics of TripAdvisor visitors vs. Frommer’s visitors, with a focus on those that visit TripAdvisor only

About Lincoln Merrihew:
Lincoln Merrihew is the Vice President of Transportation at Millward Brown Digital. At Millward Brown Digital, Lincoln is responsible for steering the Transportation Team, which encompasses the automotive and travel practices. Before Lincoln joined the Millward Brown Digital team, he worked at TNS Custom leading the Automotive team, and then continued on there to lead business development for 10 different industry verticals. Lincoln's career aspiration is to create game-changing solutions and insights. Connect with Lincoln on LinkedIn.