What Will Online Travel Look Like In 2013?

OnlineTravelAGoGo.jpg Four years ago, booking online was already the cheapest way to organise travel. But what will the world of online travel look like in 2013?

A recent report from Forrester Research US Online Travel Forecast, 2008 To 2013 has a stab at guessing some of the key trends that will dominate Internet travel booking in four years time. While that forecast is necessarily US-centric, it does provide some interesting food for thought.

By 2013, the number of travellers directly researching and booking part of their trip online will have grown — but only by a relatively modest 16%. The main reason that number won't grow faster, Forrester argues, is that travel sites aren't good enough for many users, thanks to a combination of poor design, inflexible options, and unclear security.

Indeed, one of the growth areas will be in what Forrester describes as "leisure lookers": people who use the Web to research and price their travel plans but then make their final bookings and payments offline. By 2013, one in five online travellers will fall into this category.

But how of a share of the overall travel market will Internet sales comprise? By 2013, Forrester predicts that 46% of leisure and unmanaged business travel will be sold online, and that 39% of managed business travel (the kind organised via a mandated company policy) will go through online channels. Individual sectors will have much more Internet activity: more than half in the case of airlines, about a third of hotel bookings, and almost two-thirds of car rental bookings.

I'm surprised by how low the overall figure is, and by some of those sectoral figures. I expect that partially reflects my own biases: I couldn't tell you the last time I booked a hotel room without using the Net, and the only flight booking I've made in the last decade via an agent was for a complex round-the-world routing. (And even in that case, I had a complete and precise list of which flights I wanted before I hit the agents.)

Regional variations might also play a role. Online booking is so heavily promoted by Australia's domestic airlines that I'd be astonished if the total sales even now were below 50%. (The much wider range of active airlines in the US might well be a factor here, despite many of them constantly teetering on the brink of bankruptcy.)

It's less of a surprise that tours and cruises still won't be predominantly booked online, with each accounting for about 10% of the market. In both cases, considerable amounts of money are involved, so it seems we're happier having a few discussions and getting questions answered before we part with our cash. Or as Forrester put it: "Both sectors' complexity and high degree of emotional involvement lend themselves to being purchased offline, primarily through travel agents."

One element that isn't included in the report is the "cheapskate factor": will we be more inclined to search for travel deals online in an economic downturn? I suspect I might, but then I'm clearly an early adopter anyway. How would you like to see online travel sites evolve? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman hasn't finalised his 2013 travel plans, though at his rate of forward booking it could be a distinct possibility. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.


Comments

    No surprises here, “about half of travelers may book offline”.
    This will continue to be the case until online booking will be a rewarding experience. The principals need to work out away to extend their online offering beyond their core activity. Hotels site with no tours or transfers, airline site without connecting services etc etc. The next issue is all the metasites tend to source their content from the same sources and re present it with a variety of quality which gives the consumer a poor experience which they tolerate to get the best price. The next major challenge is sites that used to use a straight media mode like tripadvisor have now linked in booking services but like the Metasites the quality and performance of theses links is low they drive pop ups and the data is often not passed through properly and you can easily lose touch with your original search. In essence all the searches are unrewarding and a big number of consumers will choose to book offline.

    The upside is that click to call or click to enquire is alive and well. Companies with great customer service procedures are doing well.

    By 2013 companies will happy to dwell in their channel or distribution niche on the net and will spend their online marketing dollars to support their preference. We will see a firm segmentation of online activity between the self serve product companies and the click to call or enquire companies. The key factor in each regional market will be the target clients comfort with the destination and knowledge of the destination and the complexity of service they require.

    On the upside by 2013 I firmly expect net geniuses will have solved the” more than 2 kids plus an infant in a room or in a booking” pricing challenge. It will be possible to book a package online for a family with a 16 year old a 12 year old and a 9 year and not end up in a room with 2 double beds and fold down couch in one room.

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