Marketing Manager (and keen flight, hotel and hire car booker) Jack Ford, takes a look at the famed ‘peak seasons’ for the travel sector to find out if they still exist when booking a trip is always just a click away.

It has long been held as an accepted truth that the travel industry sees a peak in business at the start of the year.

It coincided with January sales, when shoppers flocked to the high streets and malls to grab too-good-to-miss deals.

But now that cheap travel is available all day, every day at just the click of a mouse or the tap of the screen, is January still a big deal?

How and When Do People Book?

It’s certainly a bit more disparate when I look at how I plan and book my vacation;

  • First week in January: book flights to escape the grey UK skies. 
  • Every waking moment until departure: Constant trawling, checking and rechecking tripadvisor and booking.com for the most bizarre negative review that will put me off a certain hotel or place (perfect example of a beach that’s just too sandy to risk below).
  • One day to two weeks prior to departure: book the accommodation and car. 

To see if this ‘method’ of vacation booking is commonplace I turned to the marketer’s handbook (Google).

In particular Google Trends, to see when travel keywords and topics are most popular throughout the year.

The chart below highlights the popularity (rather than traffic or search volumes) of each category, with a score of 100 indicating its height of popularity.

Looking at the data from Google, it seems that I’m not the only one to book flights early while leaving the accommodation and car rental until the last minute closer to the time.

Flights have the most pronounced peak season, and last year it lasted for just one week, right at the start of January before dropping off steeply.

It’s fairly consistent through the rest of the year with mid-high interest being sustained until October. However, unlike the other categories, searches for flights don’t see a pronounced mid-year spike.

Interest in both hotels and car rentals track pretty closely throughout the year and reach an extended-peak in early June lasting until the end of July before dropping off quickly.

The only real difference between these two came at the start of January when hotels saw a sharp rise at the same time as flights whereas car rentals had a much slower and steadier increase.

Does Peak Popularity Mean Pounds (Or Dollars, Yen and Euros…)?

Okay, so that’s what Google is telling us about search popularity, but does this turn into actual cold, hard cash (or luke-warm online payments)?

In a word, yes.

If we look at the revenue of the world’s largest travel company, Priceline Group (parent to Booking.com, KAYAK and rentalcars.com amongst others), we can see there are big spikes in Q1 and Q3 of both 2016 and 2017.

Given that they cover almost all aspects of travel booking I think this is a pretty good indicator of both the January peak for flight bookings and the busy months of June and July for hotels and car rentals.

From other sources, many of the largest travel brands predict their busiest days of the year will occur in January. One brand expected January bookings to account for 40% of their entire year’s bookings!

Looking to the immediate future, SaleCycle client data supports these claims of a January “peak”.

Our travel clients saw a 42% increase in booking abandonments over this time as shoppers hunted for their perfect getaway.

However, these same clients also saw a surge in conversions from their abandonment campaigns during January.  As shoppers chose not to miss out, these brands recovered 62% more bookings, with airlines seeing the biggest increase.

Make the Most of Peak Periods

Now we’ve established the peaks still exist and can see when they are, it’s about making the most of that extra traffic.

Provide a great user experience for potential customers, make sure they can find the right hotel to flight easily, and don’t forget to optimise those forms.