A New Normal for DMO Website Organic Traffic

Director of Research and Online Marketing
Published 6/21/19
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Our latest study of 36 DMOs highlights even greater challenges to DMO website traffic – and the importance of partnerships with major platforms like Google.

Learn more about the Google DMO Partnership Program

For the last 3+ years, Miles Partnership has been analyzing, blogging and speaking about the dramatic changes we are seeing to the organic traffic of destination and other tourism websites. Organic traffic makes up more than 50% of the website traffic on average for DMOs* but this critical and free source of traffic is under mounting pressure.  

In 2016 we asked the question,  “Is Google’s Expanding Role in Travel Undermining Organic Traffic Growth for Destinations?” In 2017 we reinforced these concerns; “New Study Supports Concerns About DMO organic Site Traffic; New Strategies on the Horizon”    

Now we have updated this analysis looking at changes in organic search traffic from 2013 to 2018 across our sample group of 36 North American DMOs.  This is a cross section of our DMO clients and represents a wide range of DMOs by size, budgets and type (city, regions and states). In past studies we showed how annual growth in organic traffic for DMO websites slowed and then stopped between 2013 and 2017. In our latest study it has now turned negative. In 2018 organic search traffic for the sample of 36 DMOs dropped 1%; the first YOY decline we have ever seen (see the graph below). Of course that 1% decline is small and an average. Some DMOs are still seeing growth but for many DMOs, growth in organic traffic is nonexistent or has turned sharply negative. Though our study is of North American DMOs, our work with DMOs in both Asia-Pacific and Europe suggests this trend is worldwide.

Based on this ongoing analysis, we have been in touch with Google since 2016 to discuss its implications for DMOs and possible solutions.  We encouraged Google to offer opportunities for DMOs to be more meaningful partners in the travel content they curate and present. Building on this communication, Miles Partnership was closely involved in the launch of the Google DMO Partnership Program, co-presenting with Google at the official launch of the program at the Destinations International Annual Convention in Montreal, Canada in July 2017.

The Google DMO Partnership Program offers DMOs the opportunity to leverage the enormous reach of Google’s travel products with a suite of free tools. DMOs can review, influence and upload content in Google Maps, Google My Business, Google Street View and more.  The program offers significant and free organic reach for this DMO content - complementing the reach of a DMO’s own website. It also improves the quality of destination content and information for visitors (and locals), expands their business community’s online reach for free and in return generates attribution and reporting for the DMO.

This has been reinforced by our experience in the program over the last 2 years. Since July 2017 we have worked with more than 80 destinations in rolling out the program. Our analysis of just 22 of these DMOs shows that to date, they have generated more than 123 million views of images and Street View content uploaded by the DMO to Google. This has improved the content and information available to visitors and locals alike and dramatically increased their DMO’s online reach, all at zero media cost.  In fact, for almost all of these 22 DMOs, the views generated through the Google DMO Partnership Program was equal or far larger than the total views (from all sources) of their own website. While not an “apples to apples” comparison, this highlights the enormous reach of Google products.

In a world of flat or declining website organic traffic, the Google DMO Partnership Program is a critical addition the reach and relevance of DMOs.

*Average for DMOs from Miles’ work on a range of benchmarking studies with DMOs across 90+ DMOs in total across the US, Canada and New Zealand, 2013 – 2019.