Travel & Tourism
Big Bus Tours
Next Mobile Economy
Big Bus Tours operates open-top bus sightseeing tours in 20 major world cities, each with different challenges and
opportunities. They recruit visitors from 150+ countries in languages ranging from English to Simplified Chinese.
In 2017, our paid media campaigns had driven significant growth for the company, but after utilising all the ‘easy
wins’ and in a market with few repeat purchases, we needed to continue finding new customers and maintain high
levels of growth.
Sightseeing bus tours are a highly-competitive, commoditised sector. In addition, 2018 began alongside a gloomy
backdrop for the tourism market due to geopolitical tensions, terrorism and saturated markets. Competitors were
starting to use increasingly aggressive advertising tactics, and the growing complexity of user-journeys has required
the development of ever more sophisticated strategies and media plans.
In 2018, our brief was simple – create a strategy to deliver continued expansion of the business, focusing on 11 key
cities around the world, at a cost-effective price. However, we faced four enormous challenges:
1. How do you build your travel brand without a considerable brand-building
2. How do you stand out in a commoditised sector of the travel industry?
3. How do you gain a competitive advantage in a cut-throat, heavily saturated marketplace?
4. How do you do all this when all the easy wins have already been banked?
This isn’t a story of big, eye-catching, set-piece marketing campaigns that get everyone talking. Nor is it a story of
grabbing consumer attention via expensive brand building on high-cost channels. Instead, it’s a story of how Oban’s
hard work and laser-like focus on small gains across the board can accumulate to create a real, sustainable
competitive advantage for Big Bus Tours in a crowded marketplace.
Using a hyper-granular paid media approach, we focused on PPC campaigns integrated across all devices, plus
display advertising for retargeting purposes. With 70% of Big Bus Tours’ traffic occurring on mobile, ensuring the
strategy was mobile-first remained essential.
We identified three key areas for growth:
1. The English language market was close to saturation – foreign language expansion was a key opportunity for
2. The need for more advanced optimisation – with over 40,000 PPC keywords, across 17 cities, and 5 intent driven
tiers, our PPC optimisation was becoming a handful. We wanted to create more advanced automation within the
3. Better use of data to properly manage the customer journey – rapidly shifting, device splits are increasingly
complex, yet the tracking and attribution technology hasn’t kept pace with customers. We felt this offered
opportunities for innovation
A multilingual campaign
We rolled out 24 foreign language frameworks in 12 cities throughout the year. We did this through Oban’s network
of Local In-Market Experts (LIMEs) – 450 digital marketing experts in 80 countries around the world – to truly localise the ad copies and user journeys throughout the immensely complicated PPC campaign structure.
In addition, we built out localised paid search structures globally, to make sure the user journey for non-English
speakers reflects their actual intent to the same granular level of complexity as English speakers. We did this via
Oban’s LIME network – briefing experts in-market to create culturally-aware and intent-driven campaigns that
answered the increasingly complex needs of travellers in different countries.
Advancing optimisation cycles
Our optimisation cycles focused on top-level city performance, ensuring we keep within our Payaway threshold to
deliver exceptional performance. Now, we utilise Oban’s custom made in-house optimisation engine which takes into
consideration over 100+ variables every day to guarantee we can react, and act, accordingly.
One example of our attention to detail is this: we noticed we were paying for a lot of clicks for people who were
searching for music tours in certain cities – not sightseeing tours. In response, we built a web scraping tool to pull
the newest gigs, concerts and musicals in the Big Bus Tours cities – so we could add them to our exclusion list.
Simple automation – but one which frees up a lot of time to focus on higher-value activities.
A better understanding of the customer journey
People who research far in advance often use very qualified keywords, and they are more likely to be searching from
a desktop device. By contrast, people who are in a city and looking to buy within the next day or two are often
searching for less qualified keywords – such as “things to do in London” and are more likely to be on a mobile. This is
the opposite to our original assumption – that the terms become more qualified the nearer you get to purchase –
but on reflection makes sense. To respond to this, we devised different ad copies to cater to different device
Overall we saw a 26% increase in revenue YoY from paid search. The proportion of traffic from non-English
campaigns grew from 8% to 18%. The non-English campaigns offered better returns, and the proportion of revenue
coming from non-English campaigns increased 255% YoY.
Top cities saw significant increases in the proportion of traffic and revenue coming from other languages compared
Proportion of traffic from other languages (not English)
Paris – Saw a 56% increase to 44%
San Francisco – Saw a 135% increase to 8%
London – Saw a 39% increase to 18%
Proportion of revenue from other languages (not English)
Paris – Saw a 160% increase to 30%
San Francisco – Saw a 115% increase to 6%
London – Saw a 115% increase to 17%
Non-English brand activity increased 113% from 12% to 27% of all non-English traffic. Brand campaigns saw an
overall increase in revenue of 64%.
With the number of keywords increasing 51% to over 60K, 1/5 of those coming from new foreign terms, and the
addition of 3 new cities, our newly refreshed optimisation cycles were running full steam ahead. By the end of the
year, these optimisations led to:
- A 51% improvement in clickthrough rate on non-English terms
- A 14% conversion rate
- A 182% ROI
- Some cities, such as London and San Francisco, saw ROI improve over 250%.
Top cities saw significant increases in the proportion of traffic and revenue coming from non-English brand
compared to non-brand:
Proportion of traffic from non-English brand compared to non-brand
Paris – Saw a 2646% increase to 20%
San Francisco – Saw a 144% increase to 30%
London – Saw a 77% increase to 27%
Proportion of revenue from non-English brand compared to non-brand
Paris – Saw a 148% increase to 50%
San Francisco – Saw a 180% increase to 58%
London – Saw a 31% increase to 57%