The Travel Professor
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Monday, August 25, 2008

Why is the number of on line travel bookers falling?

This year US travel sales booked online will reach $105 billion, up 12% from 2007. Internet research company 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 it predicts that from 2007 to 2012 online sales will increase at an 11.6% average annual rate.

Even though online travel sales are growing the trend also shows that fewer travelers are booking their trips online.

"The fact that fewer travelers are booking online is not due to economic concerns—online travel bookers are an affluent demographic—it is caused by frustrations related to the planning and booking capabilities of online travel agencies," says Jeff Grau, senior analyst at eMarketer and author of the new report, US Online Travel: Planning and Booking. "This, in turn, is spurring a renewed appreciation for the expertise and personalized services offered by traditional travel agents."

“In other words, online travel sites are steering customers back to offline travel agents—a complete turnaround of what has been happening in the category for the last decade. Not so long ago industry observers cast traditional travel agents as has-beens," says Mr. Grau. "Perhaps this has helped them to focus on what they do best: provide travel expertise and personalized service."

According to the current research growing customer dissatisfaction with online travel agencies (OTAs) stems from unfriendly booking engines, poor navigation tools and the lack of human interaction (customer service).

Most OTAs offer the same products and have had a hard time building customer loyalty and have driven travelers right into the open arms of traditional travel agencies.

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