Consumers are increasingly fed up with buying travel using online search engines. According to one research group, “travellers are angry with the web” and they aren’t going to take it anymore.
The trend is reflected in a number of articles and studies, the most recent with the provocative headline “Why Travel Search Engines Suck.” In that story, Computerworld columnist Robert Mitchell recounts the two hours he spent “slashing through a jungle of search results” until finally turning to a travel agent who got the job done and saved him $150, even after a service fee. Mitchell isn’t the only one — research indicates a growing number of travellers are choosing the traditional travel agent route after becoming frustrated with online booking.
According to Forrester Research, in 2009 15% fewer travellers reported enjoying using the web to book travel than in a 2007 survey. Only a third of survey respondents said they believed travel websites do a good job of presenting travel choices, down from 39% in 2008.
The Forrester report stated: “Travel sites aren’t good enough for many users, thanks to a combination of poor design, inflexible options, and unclear security. To reverse travellers’ dissatisfaction and avoid having them abandon the web in favour of other, more expensive offline channels, travel eBusiness professionals must rethink their approach.”
It’s not that people don’t find the Internet useful in travel planning. Forrester says there is a growing number of what it calls “leisure lookers”: people who use the Web to research and price their travel plans but make their final bookings and payments offline. By 2013, Forrester says one in five online travellers will fall into this category.
Another study, this one by travel industry research specialist YPartnership, says some consumers are turning to (or returning to) travel professionals because it simply takes too long to wade through the voluminous online travel choices. People are placing a value on their time and deciding it makes more sense to pay an agent a fee to do the work for them.
Basic flight, hotel and car rental bookings are fairly simple to do online, but even these functions are getting trickier. With airlines ‘unbundling’ fares into a menu of options, it can be difficult to comparison shop without spending a lot of time at it. Hotels and car rental companies are also getting into unbundling, meaning the price you pay online isn’t always the final price.
The biggest problems arise when consumers attempt to book several interlocking travel components or a complex flight itinerary. Travel search engines can be clunky to navigate, with each relying on different search options, results displays, and pricing standards.
All this is welcome news to traditional travel agents who have always maintained they can outperform online any day of the week. In fact, the Computerworld ‘Why Travel Search Engines Suck” article generated a flurry of comments from both agents and online adherents who scoffed at ‘old-fashioned’ methods.
One reader wrote: “I’m under 40 and have never talked to or seen a travel agent in my life. I only know how to book online!”
Not surprisingly, a travel agent had a different take in her response to the story: “We’re not “in it” to sell you just anything, we’re in it to develop a relationship based on integrity, service and finding the best price, not always the cheapest price (even though research has shown we do that 70% of the time). In a nutshell, the internet will sell you any air ticket, any hotel, any cruise, any tour package…we want to make sure it’s the right one for you because you can’t return a trip like you can a sweater. This may sound “corny” in our fast paced, impersonal world, but we care about our clients or we wouldn’t be here.”
Another travel agent says booking online or offline is simply a personal choice: “There are times that the Internet has lower fares than travel agents. There are good travel agents and good travel sites. It comes down to what you think your time is worth. (If) you have time to spend three hours in the middle of the night then I do hope you find the lowest fare – but how would you know that?”
By: Bruce Parkinson
Bruce Parkinson is a travel industry journalist and regular contributor to Takeoffeh.com as well as sister company, OpenJaw.com
Photo Credit: clintspencer