Middle-aged travellers leading travel social media revolution
Middle age travellers are shaping consumer views of the best hotels and holiday destinations at home and abroad.
The use of social media is prompting significant numbers of consumers to book direct, with less than ten per cent saying they visit travel agencies.
Online reviews from the likes of TripAdvisor are now more influential than brochures, advertising, travel supplements and agents, a new study claims.
People also trust complete strangers over recommendations from the travel industry, according to the research which claims that the holiday industry is facing a social media revolution.
The Social Travel Report by independent media agency Total Media, based on a sample of 1,375 people, reveals that large numbers of consumers are opting to book accommodation, flights and activities direct online based on the advice of fellow holidaymakers.
British holidaymakers see the internet as an extension of word-of-mouth recommendations they receive from friends and family and are more likely to take the word of a complete stranger over recommendations from the industry.
Independent reviews on travel website and contacts via social media sites, are more trusted than travel agents, brochures, recommendations from tour operators, reviews by journalists and presenters on TV travel shows.
Holiday reviews written by strangers on independent websites such as TripAdvisor, search results on Google and word-of-mouth advice from family and colleagues are more influential than brochures, advertising, media reviews and advice from travel agents.
The study found that almost 70% of consumers use the internet to book their holidays, compared to 23% by phone and just eight per cent in-store within travel agents.
Consumers aged 35-44 were found to be most likely (74%) to book online. Price (80%) was cited as the main reason for using the internet along with information (53%) and convenience (50%).
Although less than 10% of bookings are made through travel agents, 60% of consumers using agencies said they did so because they valued their "expert advice".
Surprisingly, the age group most likely to visit a travel agent is 16-24 year olds, some seeking advice on how best to structure gap year travel arrangements.
When it comes to hotel accommodation, 37% of holidaymakers booked direct via the internet for short trips (five nights or less) while 24% booked direct for long trips (more than five nights); significantly more than did so via travel agents or tour operators.
The report found Expedia was the leading online resource for consumers planning long trips (more than five nights) with 25%, followed by Tripadvisor and lastminute.com with 22%. Lastminute.com was regarded as first choice for short trips with 24%.
Google Earth and Google Maps also ranked highly (usedby 14% and 17% respectively), while the "long tail" of travel information destinations online (ranking below 10% of visitors), included Ebookers, Lonelyplanet, Travelocity, Teletext, Opodo, Yahoo, the Foreign Office, BBC, Telegraph and Daily Mail.
A quarter of British travellers say that online reviews by strangers help determine their travel plans compared to 14% for online advertisements, 13% for TV travel programmes, 11% for travel magazines, newspaper supplements and 9% for TV advertising and direct mail.
Only recommendations by friends (28%) and family (24%) ranked on a par with online reviews.
The study found that more than 30% of Britons over the age of 16 had written a holiday review online, rising to almost 40% for over 25"s.
Almost half of travellers over 45 are using websites to recommend or warn fellow travellers by posting a review of their travel experiences online.
The age group least likely to use the internet to exchange views on holiday destinations are 16 to 24 year olds.
Hotels and places to stay is the category most likely to be reviewed online (34%) compared to countries to visit (25.6%) and airlines (24.7%).
Almost as many people have now reviewed an airline, hotel or country as they have talked about it face to face.
Total Media director Nick Oram said: "The travel industry has embraced e-commerce as a way of making the booking process far more cost effective; it must now embrace social media to ensure its communicating with consumers effectively, because when it comes to travel advice, British consumers would rather rely on each other than recommendations from the industry.
"The internet dominates the supply of information about holidays and travel destinations and has effectively extended the power of word of mouth recommendations.
"The impartial online opinion of travellers who have first-hand experience of a destination is second only now to what you hear from friends, family and work colleagues.
"Because the internet makes it far easier for consumers to pick and choose different elements of a holiday and book their flights and accommodation direct, the opinions of amateur online travel critics can have a huge influence on the popularity of destinations and performance of travel brands.
"Social media is therefore a huge threat to those businesses that ignore it, but also a massive opportunity especially for smaller hotels or brands that use it wisely."
by Phil Davies
Thursday, March 25, 2010