[Study] US Travelers Seek Deals and International Destinations, Search Data Reveals

December 6, 2022image

Has the travel industry recovered from its massive pandemic slump? Based on increases in media ad spend, site traffic, and search volume over the last two years, things are looking up. 

But what exactly are people prioritizing as they start planning trips again? And what does their online activity signal for the hospitality market’s future? 

Semrush’s data reveals three key trends when it comes to travel: 

  • Web traffic for airlines and digital ad spend is skyrocketing in the travel industry, signaling a healthy recovery
  • Consumers are prioritizing savings in their trip planning amid inflation and a looming recession
  • International travel reigns supreme when it comes to choosing destinations


Online activity for travel is roaring back 

Air travel is on track for a robust recovery this year, with a recent study by Bain & Co. predicting the industry will hit 84% of its 2019 revenue. 

Consumer activity online supports such optimistic forecasts. Website traffic to Southwest, American Airlines, and Delta are all up by double digits YoY, showing a steady rebound in travel interest. 

Boasting the highest average monthly traffic, Southwest in particular has seen a 48% increase in web visits since last year. This ascent is followed by American Airlines’ 34% climb, while the third most visited site, Delta, saw a 26% rise. 

Outside of company-specific website visits, search queries for “best airports” are also up by more than 240% from two years ago. 


Digital ad spend from companies in the travel sector also paints a picture of industry recovery. 

Businesses like Expedia, Hilton, and Four Seasons are showing triple-digit growth in ad spend over  2020 levels, suggesting that travel and hospitality organizations are competing to capture consumer interest as the market begins to resemble its pre-pandemic landscape. 

Rental car companies in particular are investing ad dollars at an explosive rate. Hertz increased its digital ad spend by 5600% relative to the same period in 2020 and 2021, while Sixt grew this figure by 2400%, signaling robust competition in the rental car market. 


But overall in 2022, the biggest spenders in the travel industry have been accommodation marketplaces and travel metasearch engines, now collectively funneling over $30 million monthly into digital marketing placements, with even higher numbers in recent months. This year’s top spender Expedia has dedicated over $60 million to digital ads in 2022 alone, closely followed by brands like Booking.com, Vrbo, Priceline, Hotels.com, and Airbnb. 

Savings are top-of-mind for consumers

While our data shows that consumers are eager to explore new cities and take vacations, economic concerns have led budget-conscious travelers to search for deals. 

While many airlines are experiencing an uptick in online traffic, the number-one most visited airline site — as well as the one boasting the highest YoY increase in traffic — is Southwest, a budget airline. 

In addition to Southwest’s dominance among airline sites, online activity also reveals that travelers are using trip-planning sites to find low-cost travel options. 

Websites like Tripadvisor and Expedia are up in traffic from 2020 by 30% and 160% respectively. These brands also claim the top two spots for most-visited travel sites in the US, signaling that saving money is a priority as people plan their trips. 

Kayak, Priceline, and Hotels.com are also experiencing triple-digit traffic growth from 2020, suggesting that consumers are researching the best deals before purchasing airfare or booking lodging.


The surging popularity of these travel metasearch engines shows that consumers may be balancing their desire to travel with caution when it comes to their wallets. Hotel alternatives like Airbnb and Vrbo are also seeing increased traffic as travelers seek lower nightly rates than hotels. 

Searchers crave adventure

People are excited to travel, and they’re putting in the work to secure the best deals. But where are they most excited to go? 

In the US, cities that appear most frequently in queries for “flights to” are Miami, Las Vegas, and New York. This shows us that Americans are interested in busy, activity-packed destinations after staying close to home during the pandemic. Night life, culture, restaurants, and entertainment are big draws in these locales, and people are excited to immerse themselves in these experiences.  


Ibiza, Bangkok, and Auckland saw an increase in search volume of more than 200% since 2020, when paired with queries for “flights to.” Of the cities that saw this increase, all were outside of the US.


This trend indicates that the appetite for overseas exploration is strong, especially after years without international travel for many US citizens. 

Consumers also seem eager to see famous landmarks and visit tourist destinations. 

Niagara Falls and Mount Rushmore claim the top spots when it comes to US search volume for landmarks, while searches for Death Valley and the Brooklyn Bridge have increased by more than 100% since 2020. 

International landmarks including the Taj Mahal, Moulin Rouge, and the Blue Lagoon are also seeing hefty increases in search volume from 2020. 


During the pandemic, travelers had time to dream up their ideal destinations and anticipate trips. Now, they’re finally able to start making them a reality. 

Whether traveling domestically or abroad, travelers are seeking out novel experiences. From high-energy cities and faraway lands to must-see natural wonders and architecture, people are excited to travel for leisure and to feed their appetites for adventure. 

For brands, publishing content to help people find the most exciting, breathtaking, or unique destinations presents an opportunity to make gains in online visibility. Tools like Semrush’s Traffic Analytics, Keyword Overview, and Domain Analytics can inform marketing strategies with insights into online activity, and the data in this story was compiled from those resources.  

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