Advertising in a cookieless world 

Travel marketers and advertisers have been hearing for the past few years about the sunsetting of third-party cookies. It’s grabbed their attention and made headlines because for nearly 30 years, the digital advertising industry has relied on third-party cookies to gain an in-depth understanding of how digital ads perform and collect information about the people that view them.  

Third-party data, which relies on data from third-party cookies, is a well-established way for marketers and advertisers to gather information about people that visit a website, click on an ad, make online purchases, and more. The use of this data allows advertisers to target consumers based on specific behaviors. 

Image courtest of iStock

As third-party cookies are slowly being removed from web browsers — Apple’s Safari and Mozilla’s Firefox have already removed third-party cookies from their browsers and Google is planning on removing them from Chrome sometime in 2025 — travel marketers and advertisers need to be prepared to use first-party data to build strategic campaigns to effectively connect with their desired travelers. 

Let’s take a deeper look into the nuances of third-party data and cookies and how these differ from first-party data and cookies.  

What is the difference between first-party data and cookies and third-party data and cookies?  

First, let’s get clarity about what a cookie is and what it does. A cookie is a file that stores data on your computer or other devices, and they’ve been around since a programmer at Netscape created them in 1994. The data that a cookie stores can include everything from web pages you’ve visited, searches you’ve conducted, whether you are logged into a site, and more.  

The difference between first-party and third-party cookies is that first-party cookies live on a particular website you visit and are used only by that domain. Third-party cookies come from other sources and can be used by a business or person who does not own the domain to collect data about visitors across multiple websites.  

For example, if a traveler visits to look for flights to Super Bowl LVIII in Las Vegas, a first-party cookie may be delivered by Expedia Group to their desktop or mobile device. When this traveler searches for flights to Las Vegas because they’re interested in attending the game, the first-party cookie collects this data along with information like language to understand what users are doing on the website. It’s essential to understand that no external entity is authorized to sell Expedia Group first-party data for targeted advertising. Only Expedia Group, as the domain owners of, has the authority to activate first-party data on media plans created exclusively by the Media Solutions team.  

First-party cookies feed directly into first-party data. At Expedia Group, we share insights based on Expedia Group website activity that contain proprietary data collected from first-party cookies and other sources to examine traveler trends and behaviors; this data is derived using billions of data points from hundreds of millions of travelers across the globe on our 200+ travel websites and apps. This first-party data is relevant to travel marketers and advertisers to better understand what travelers do when planning for a trip and use these insights in their campaigns. The data also supports our targeting capabilities to help you reach the right traveler at the right point in their purchasing journey.  

When it comes to third-party cookies, the cookie functions in the same way a first-party cookie does. The difference is that third-party cookies are designed to work across a plethora of websites simultaneously, while a first-party cookie collects data only from the website associated with its first-party domain. 

Using the Super Bowl example above, if you’re a traveler interested in going to the game, other marketers will be interested in engaging with you. Third-party data can include information on your search behavior, which websites you visit, activities you book, surveys, social media, online reviews, and more. Leveraging this third-party data, retailers can use it to entice you to purchase a football jersey, a Las Vegas venue can use it to sell you concert tickets, and yes, even Expedia Group could use third-party data sources to show you travel-based on- and off-site ads that align with interests gathered from your interactions on other websites.  

The biggest pitfall with this data is that it’s collected from such a wide variety of sources that its accuracy and quality can often be hard to verify. This emphasizes why first-party data is more valuable to advertisers — they know the consumer data they receive is captured from the domain owner and no other entity.  

Why are cookies an issue? 

Generally, most people don’t mind certain types of first-party cookies because they help deliver a better user experience — cookies remember who you are, previous purchases you’ve made, or preferences that you’ve set.  

For example, let’s say you often order groceries online for delivery. When you visit the store’s website, it remembers your purchases and can prompt you with this historical data so that you don’t forget to buy toilet paper or eggs.  

Third-party cookies are a different story. This is because third-party cookies collect data from entities that don’t have a direct relationship with the consumer and the data can be resold to other parties, and frequently multiple times. Marketers typically have little to no insight into how, where, or even when the data was collected, making it far less reliable than first-party data. 

Two travel advertisers working on a cookieless marketing strategy

Consumer fatigue with third-party data collection has led to legislation in Europe and several states in the U.S. to protect consumer privacy. In Europe, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was enacted in 2016. In 2018, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) was adopted and it empowers customers to know what data is being collected about them, provides them with access to their personal data, and more. Since these consumer data protections were put in place, many other countries from Japan and Argentina to the U.K. and South Africa have instituted similar regulations.  Colorado, Connecticut, Utah, Virginia, and eight other states have also passed similar regulations.  

This has driven many companies to give users more control to comply with these laws, from allowing users to opt-in via a cookie banner to giving consumers the ability to opt-out of targeted advertising. Cookie banners and controls have become an industry standard as more regulations are put in place across the globe.  

What does this mean for travel advertisers? 

Cookieless data will have a significant impact on travel advertising. With the phasing out of third-party cookies, advertisers will no longer have access to the same level of data about consumers who don’t have a direct relationship with their company. This means that targeting specific groups of consumers based on their online behavior will become more challenging. 

As third-party cookies are sunset, advertisers will need to find new ways to target and track users across different websites and devices. This puts a lot of pressure on organizations to maximize usage of their first-party data.  

The good news is that advertisers that work with Expedia Group Media Solutions have access to our exclusive first-party data, which always has been a core value proposition of our targeting, reporting, and attribution data that provides advertisers with actionable insights for their campaigns.   

With third-party cookies all but disappearing by July 2024, first-party cookies are here to stay and will continue to be essential in delivering digital experiences to connect with travelers. At Media Solutions, we’ve been planning for a future without third-party cookies and have done the work to ensure that there won’t be any loss in identifying the various touchpoints across a traveler’s buying journey.  

To learn more about how our first-party data can benefit you, contact one of our digital advertising experts today

Expedia Group Media Solutions

Expedia Group Media Solutions is the world's leading travel media network. We connect advertisers with hundreds of millions of travelers across the globe. Our exclusive first-party data on traveler trends, search behavior, and booking data provides travel marketers with unique insights to inform their strategies. We offer a full-funnel suite of solutions to help you convert travelers, and our digital experts can help you create advertising campaigns that deliver.

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