Where Have All the Online Travelers Gone?

Cruse you Shatner, where is my deal?!

This year US travel sales booked online will reach $105 billion, up 12% from 2007.

eMarketer forecasts that US online leisure and unmanaged business travel sales (including airline, hotel, rental car, vacation package, intercity rail and cruise) will reach $105 billion. Furthermore, from 2007 to 2012, sales will increase at an 11.6% average annual rate.

Even though online travel sales are growing, fewer travelers are booking their trips online.  >>Full Story

Thoughts// An interesting read from eMarketer earlier this week.  Basically, the story asks why…in spite of online travel sales growing…more consumers are turning back to offline methods for booking travel, i.e., the travel agent.

Customer dissatisfaction with online travel agencies (OTAs) stems specifically from unfriendly booking engines and navigation tools. … With few points of differentiation, OTAs have a hard time building customer loyalty and have driven travelers right into the open arms of traditional travel agencies—and new online competitors.

While those points are (somewhat) true and valid (I would disagree on some points about the booking engines), I would include market saturation as an additional factor.  As we have stated several times on the Travel 2.0 blog and as many of you have seen based on our posts, it seems like a new travel booking, review, networking site is launched almost weekly.

Just a few years ago, consumers only had a few choices in the OTA / online travel booking space.  Expedia, Travelocity…review on TripAdvisor…done.  Limited choices meant less confusion on which of these sites is actually offerting the best deal.  Fast forward a couple years and we now have several OTAs, with sub-brands, meta travel search sites that search other OTAs for the best deal, individual property sites, 3rd party aggregators, Google, etc, etc, etc.  No wonder the consumer is turing back to the travel agent, I am confused at this point.

Why should I have to do all of this work when someone else can do it for me.  Remember, humans are lazy.  Start confusing them and making them do additional research and this is what happens. Of course, that is a bit of an overstatement (just for shock value), the majority of travelers are still planning their own travel online, without the help of an agent.

Additionally, as with most things, the social use of the internet is cyclical.  And this trend is no different.  Users get excited about booking their own trips, flood the internet, demand increases, new sites, confusion, users retreat back to something they know.

An interesting trend to keep an eye on and one you should consider when desiging the UI, navigation, content of your site as well as your marketing and advertising campaigns.

How do I not confuse my audience?

Comment? @travel2dot0 or email.