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What do Kobe Bryant, Disneyland and WestJet Airlines have in common? They're all featured in some of YouTube's most-viewed travel videos. In recent years, online video has proven to be a powerful channel for information, education and entertainment, particularly in the travel and hospitality industry, where we've seen impressive growth. According to a recent study Google conducted with Ipsos MediaCT, two out of three U.S. consumers watch online travel videos when they're thinking about taking a trip. What exactly are travelers looking for? What's popular? What content are they watching? Here's what we found.

Travel content has proliferated as people around the world share their experiences and seek inspiration for their next adventure. Every month, more than one billion people visit YouTube to watch more than six billion hours of video, making YouTube an ideal place to explore how travelers interact with video content.1 According to a recent study Google conducted with Ipsos MediaCT, two out of three U.S. consumers watch online travel videos when they're thinking about taking a trip.2 But what are travelers looking for? What's popular? What content are they watching? To find out, we analyzed aggregated and anonymized views of travel content on YouTube in the U.S. from early 2012 to early 2014. For the purposes of this research, we define "travelers" as those individuals who engage with or search for travel content on and/or YouTube. Overall, our findings have big implications for marketers looking to connect with travelers, regardless of category.

Videos influence travel decisions

YouTube data shows that travelers are spending more time watching online videos than ever before, with views of travel-related content up 118% year over year (YoY). According to the data, travelers are increasingly using mobile devices to consume travel-related videos anytime and anywhere; in 2013, mobile devices accounted for roughly 30% of all travel video views, with mobile viewing up 97% on smartphones and 205% on tablets, YoY.3

Across devices—desktop and mobile—travelers are consuming travel-related videos around the clock. Nearly half are viewed during prime time (3:00—10:00 p.m. PST).4 While desktop users tend to watch videos throughout the day, smartphone and tablet users tend to tune in during the evening hours.

Travel Category Views on YouTube by Device (in PST)

Travel Content Takes Off On Youtube

What's piquing their interest? Eighty-eight percent of YouTube travel searches focus on destinations, attractions/points of interest or general travel ideas.5

Much like the seasonality we see in the industry overall, travel search activity on YouTube peaks in July, with smaller spikes in March and October. While a large percentage of travel searches are brand specific and based on purchase-intent activity, searches on YouTube generally occur earlier in the travel-planning process.

Top 1,000 Travel Queries

Travel Content Takes Off On Youtube

Compelling content grabs travelers' attention

While travel watchers on YouTube are interested in community-generated content, the majority of travel-related views (67%) are for brand or professionally released videos. In fact, views of branded videos are up 394% YoY, and we see companies with a strong brand presence, such as Turkish Airlines, Disney Parks & Resorts and Expedia, making the most of this opportunity.6

Travel Video Views by Content Type

Travel Content Takes Off On Youtube

Viewership across travel categories increased significantly YoY. While most are tuning in to watch videos about tourist destinations and attractions (40% of the total travel views), the largest growth can be seen in the cruises and charters category, up an impressive 262%.7 This rise is due, in large part, to an increase in videos from companies such as Carnival Cruise Lines, Viking River Cruises and Princess Cruises.

Primary Categories of Travel Videos on YouTube

Travel Content Takes Off On Youtube

Travelers are looking to sustain a connection

Travelers want to do more than just watch videos on YouTube; they want to connect with creators and brands. In 2014 year to date, subscriptions to top travel channels on YouTube have increased 106% YoY.8 And these subscribers watch 86% longer per view than nonsubscribers do.9

They're also extremely interested in hearing real-life stories. Nearly half of the travel subscriptions are to vlogs (video blogs) that feature personal travel experiences.

Percent of Travel Channel Subscriptions by Format

Travel Content Takes Off On Youtube

Travel vlogs, in fact, receive 4x more social engagement (likes, comments, shares, favorites and subscriptions) than other types of travel content on YouTube.10 Travelers tend to find them more engaging on a per-view basis.

Travel Content Takes Off On Youtube

People of all ages subscribe to YouTube travel content. Fifty percent of travel channel subscribers are aged 25 to 64, while 38% fall in the 18 to 24 age range.11 The younger audience tends to favor travel vlogs, suggesting they have more of an interest in "authentic" content. Perhaps they're living vicariously through their fellow YouTubers, or, at the very least, getting inspired to travel.

The 25-to-64-year-olds seem to be interested in a broader range of content relevant to frequent travelers. Often these are videos associated with decisions further down the travel purchase path, such as brand information, reviews and tips.

Travel Channel Subscribers by Age Group

Travel Content Takes Off On Youtube

Going beyond travel content

It's not all about travel for these YouTube visitors, though. Three in four come to watch videos related to their interests, hobbies or particular topic.12 Travelers often watch content in categories closely related to travel, such as restaurants, spas and food and drink. Compared with the average YouTube user, travelers are 18x more likely to watch videos about restaurants, for example.13

As we can see from the chart below, they're also interested in viewing videos about categories tangential to travel such as finance, extreme sports, home and garden, and autos and vehicles. Interestingly, they're less likely to engage with content about computer and video games, comics and animation, and hair care.

Likelihood of Watching Videos in Other Categories

Travel Content Takes Off On Youtube

Travel videos drive brand buzz

Viral videos aren't just for the twerkers, laughing babies and anything animal related (for those "aww" moments). There's virality in the travel category as well. That's because travelers, like any other YouTube users, enjoy sharing their favorite videos with friends and family.

Looking at travel videos that have gone viral (defined as content created to drive buzz that's not overly transactional and generated 500,000 views or more), we can see that airline companies account for most of the views (76%).14 Turkish Airlines' "Kobe vs. Messi" series, Virgin America's "#VXSafetyDance" and WestJet's "Christmas Miracle: Real Time Giving" are great examples of videos that are engaging, fun and, at times, touching. Airlines have embraced video as a powerful differentiation tool, one that allows their brands to stand out and be creative with a range of topics.

Nineteen percent of viral video views come from destinations, which include brands such as Disney Parks & Resorts. Two standout examples from Disney Parks are "Grumpy Cat Finds Her Disney Side" and "Disneyland Musical Marriage Proposal."

While a viral video can rack up millions of views (if you're lucky), views are just one measure of a video's success. Shares, subscribers gained and other online actions are important as well.

Implications for marketers

Across industries, advertisers are increasingly embracing online video to drive awareness and engagement, and this trend is only expected to accelerate. For travel advertisers, online video is a powerful way to convey excitement about a destination, product, service or brand. From 2012 to 2013, uploads of travel-related videos (both brand/professionally released and community generated) grew by 190%, and growth in travel video uploads overall outpace those of other major categories on YouTube.15

Here are a couple of brands that have recently embraced the video opportunity and found success:

Travel content takes off case study
Travel content takes off case study 2

Key findings 

Our research revealed that travelers:

  • Spend more time than ever watching videos on YouTube
  • Use YouTube as a primary source for travel inspiration
  • Watch travel videos across devices
  • View content across all of YouTube's travel categories
  • Ages 18 to 24 subscribe to content focused on inspiration for future travel (video blogs)
  • Ages 25 to 64 subscribe to content to help them plan current travel (reviews, travel brands and travel networks)
  • Watch video content in other categories during travel research (restaurants, spas and beauty services, finance, extreme sports, and cooking and recipes)

The bottom line

As digital video becomes an even bigger part of the traveler's journey, it's increasingly important for advertisers to seize the opportunity. A strong video strategy can help brands reach, inspire and engage today's digitally savvy traveler in more ways than ever before.