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Published on Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Online agents losing out as bookings go direct

WTM Special Report: Consumers are increasingly going direct to hotel and airline websites at the expense of online travel agencies.

According to the latest statistics released by web intelligence firm, Hitwise, travel websites continue to take a larger share of visits to websites across all sectors, but this is buoyed by growth in visits to travel suppliers, rather than travel agents.

Speaking at the CIMTIG and Designate co-ordinated debate at this year’s World Travel Market, Hitwise director of research, Heather Hopkins said that the share of total UK online visits taken by travel grew by 8 per cent in October year-on-year, to take a 4.5 per cent slice of all UK visits to the web.

But she added: “Suppliers like hotels and airlines have been fuelling this growth for travel while visits to online travel agents have remained stable.”

Visits to hotel websites grew 18 per cent year-on-year to October 2005, while visits to airline sites grew 17 per cent and to car rental sites grew 16 per cent.

Commenting on the statistics, Designate head of strategy, Craig Hanna said: “That implies to me that people are learning how to use the web better and find what they want.”

Hopkins added that the growth of visits to travel suppliers’ sites was also fuelled by massive marketing campaigns, from the likes of ba.com and InterContinental Hotel Group, pushing more visitors direct.

But she said online travel agents were also losing visitors to travel suppliers’ sites. “People are going to online travel agents, finding the flight or hotel they want, then going direct to the supplier to buy it in the hope of saving some money,” she said.

Hopkins accepted that the leading online agents still take the lion's share of online travel traffic, but added: “A lot of pressure has been put onto online travel agents by these travel suppliers strengthening their brands.”

According to Hitwise, of the online agencies, Expedia and Lastminute.com take the top two spots for share of UK visits, the former taking number one spot since January 2005, while Thomas Cook and Thomson’s websites come in at third and fourth, demonstrating increasing popularity for their websites over the past year.

Similarly, the share of visits to airline websites has shifted, with the top three, Easyjet, Ryanair, and British Airways, losing share of UK visits to other websites such as Jet2.com and Thomsonfly.com, which have both more than doubled their visits in the past year.

Report by Ginny McGrath

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  • Online Agents Losing Out as Bookings Go Direct

    Your news piece --Online Agents losing out as bookings go direct” demonstrates that hotels and other travel suppliers have begun to recognise the importance of marketing their own websites to consumers, a trend that will no doubt continue to grow as more and more suppliers look to invest in their own sites. However, your article implies that online travel agencies will not participate in this growth, and this I would have to question. At Opodo, our sites across Europe are continuing to show healthy organic growth of over 50% year on year, with new consumers visiting our sites daily. Taking into account the five acquisitions we have made this year, our growth stands at over 100%, and for the first time our hotel sales have outstripped our original air product in terms of growth rate. We have every reason to believe that our growth will continue long into the future, for the very good reason that consumers are looking for choice when it comes to making a travel purchase. It is easier for them to access that choice online through companies like Opodo, who provide a wide range of travel products from a large number of suppliers, rather than just from a single brand. Customers are also looking for ease of booking and again the online travel agencies who enable consumers to bundle together individual trip components in a single transaction, rather than forcing them to visit a number of different supplier sites, will continue to expand. We are actively looking to build relationships with our suppliers, working with them on a supplier friendly model whereby both parties gain – our suppliers from the advantage of reaching a wide global audience, whilst protecting their brand, inventory and yield; Opodo from being able to offer our customers the widest choice of good value quality deals from a range of suppliers. Customers may be choosing to go direct in some instances but the online travel agencies are also continuing to expand. The European online travel market in general is forecast to expand rapidly over the next couple of years and companies like Opodo will continue to be a key driver of this growth. Yours sincerely Simon Vincent CEO Opodo

    By Johanna Smith, Monday, November 21, 2005

  • not a fair playing field

    It's hardly surprising when operators such as First Choice are offering huge discounts to book online. Customers are using travel agents' experience and time to find them the 'perfect' holiday and using that information to go online and book it themselves.

    By Ellie Kempster, Wednesday, November 16, 2005

  • Shouldn't say told you so

    This one dynamic, more than any other will curtail the margins of the online intermediaries. I was never a fan of so called "dynamic" packaging, always preferring the term "self select". The early adopters have had their fling with the likes of Lastminute and are now moving on. The online intermediaries are stuck between the "laggards" who insist on visiting their bricks and mortar agent and buying a traditional package and the "early majority" who will move to self select. Read the Travel Blog: http://travelthinking.blogspot.com

    By David Burdon, Wednesday, November 16, 2005

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