October 16, 2007

Loss of Online Bookers? Really?

Recently David Wilkening at Travelmole wrote a review of a recent Forrester Research article titled "Are Online Travelers Saying "Buh-Bye" To The Web?". David's review gives little introspection into the true state of online travel, it focuses rather on the decline in the number of people booking online.

There is a noted 9% decrease in the number of American leisure travelers that have made online bookings from 2005 to 2007. One can assume that they compared the years up until October, as the winter travel season has yet to begin. What he neglects to mention is that in the same article Forrester Research states
"online leisure travel spending has increased 41% in three years."

While David does attempt to peg the blame for the declining number of travelers booking online on the customer booking experience, he does not give any source or research into this diagnosis. Of course giving all consumers the most efficient booking experience will increase sales, but are we really loosing bookers due to less then efficient booking engines? I found this article from way back in 2002, it states that "66% of American users believe that eTourism web sites provide better services than travel agents!". If you can remember the state of booking websites in 2002, then you will realize that we are way more advanced now then ever before and that David's diagnosis is off base. I still have doubts about the price competitiveness between a travel agent and a travel website, are we really seeing a discount? Are travel whole sellers really giving the public rates that are comparable to those given to travel agents?

One of the reasons hypothisized by the original Forrester artical is humanizing the digital experience. This holds promise, adding direct connect to a live agent on a booking site will give the babyboomer+ market the warm personal connection that they are accustomed to when booking travel. This trend will continue for a matter of time, but it is a certainty that future generations will become much more tech savvy, and comfortable with booking online then their money holding predecessors, and thus the concept of having an online booking source will change from a "want" into a "must".

Moving forward, lets bridge the gap between the agent and the website, give consumers a personal touch (blog, chat, live link ect.), and use technology to make the travel industry more standardized and efficient for all.

What have you found for your booking site? Are you finding that your user numbers are decreasing? What have you done?


Philip Caines said...

A quick follow up with this article. There has been reports that support my price concerns about online booking:


Business travel itineraries booked on public Internet sites such as Orbitz, Expedia, Travelocity, and the airlines' direct sites have been found to average $75 more per itinerary than those booked by a corporate travel agency, according to a study conducted by Topaz International.

The independent research firm serving the corporate travel industry has provided comparative studies since 2001, and in each year, found that agency fares were equal to or lower than those offered through online sites in over 91% of itineraries.

"The five years of comparative airline purchasing patterns indicates that the online alternatives are not always cheaper, but in fact have been higher over the past few years," said Bradley Seitz, President and CEO of Topaz International.

According to an official release, there are two primary drivers in the purchase of business travel today: price and service. And, in both differentials, corporations that use a travel management company are coming out on top, reported Eyefortravel.com.

Report by David Wilkening