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Published on Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Hitwise figures show impact of economic turmoil

Budget brands and cruises are thriving online in the economic downturn, according to the latest figures from Hitwise.

UK internet traffic to travel websites overall fell by 4.6% between September 2007 and September 2008, but hits to budget travel brands increased by 5.3%.

The top 10 budget travel companies in the UK accounted for 7.1% of traffic to travel websites in September 2008, up from 6.4% the previous year.

EasyJet had the most popular budget travel website in the UK during September, accounting for 1.7% of UK internet visits to travel websites.

Travelodge, which recently announced plans to open 22 new hotels before Christmas, was the fastest growing with a 34% jump in visits.

"Each of the top three budget travel websites in the UK - EasyJet, Ryanair and Travelodge - has experienced at least a 20% increase in UK internet traffic over the last 12 months," said Robin Goad, director of research for Hitwise UK.

"This online growth is also reflected offline; in addition to Travelodge's expansion, both EasyJet and Ryanair announced significant increases in passenger numbers in their latest results. However, the big challenge for travel providers is to monetize these traffic increases in the face of falling prices and rising costs."

Meanwhile the websites of cruise companies experienced an 8.2% increase.

Hitwise said this was down to a surge in traffic from older people and increased demand for all-inclusive deals.

The proportion of visitors to travel websites aged 45 and over increased from 39.8% in September 2007 to 45.2% in September 2008.

Internet users aged 55 plus now account for 27.3% of UK visitors to travel websites, making them the largest group of visitors to the industry.

The over 45s are the fastest growing demographic for travel websites, and their tastes are different from younger internet users.

Hitwise said they are more likely to book through agencies than go directly to airline or hotel websites.

However, the section of the online travel industry that most over-indexes with older internet users is cruises, with almost 60% of visitors to cruise websites aged 55 or over and a further 16% coming from the 45-54 age group.

"Demographics are playing a role in the growth of the cruise sector online, but the economic downturn is also having an impact,” said Goad.

“Our search data reveals that people are looking for all-inclusive deals as a way of saving money, and cruises provide UK travellers with one way of achieving this."

During the 12 weeks ending October 25, the Caribbean was the most searched for cruise destination amongst UK internet users.

The next most popular destination was Norway, followed by the Nile, the Mediterranean and Alaska.

During September, P&O Cruises was the most visited cruise website in the UK, receiving one in every 10 visits to cruise websites.

Hits to cruise websites usually peak in December.

By Bev Fearis

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