Travel Booking Trends: Mobile and online booking dominant

By Claire Mullan

Is the era of the travel agent in its twilight? In the ever more instantaneous world of today, the high street is falling prey to smartphones, and the jet-setting industry is no different.

Mobile phones have become the dominant medium for customers to book holidays, with research suggesting that the majority of Britons booked their summer holidays online in 2018, whilst more booked via their mobile phone than did through travel agents. Research has also suggested that customers are still searching for discounts for holidays, but prefer to source these online rather than face-to-face.

But what is it that’s given mobile the edge? In this article, Awin explores the growing popularity for booking holidays online. Let’s get started.

A mobile majority

Research undertaken by Awin has uncovered that, perhaps unsurprisingly, 64% of those booking summer holidays in August 2018 did so via the internet, whilst 27% booked through a travel agent, and a mere 9% did so over the phone. It represents a more general trend of British customers eschewing the high street to make purchases online, and shows the emerging dominance of the smartphone for online purchases.

Of the 64% that made the bookings online, 49% of those made these bookings via their mobile phones. This is a continuation of a more general trend of customers using smartphones to purchase products, as uncovered in the Awin 2017/2018 report, which found that smartphones had a higher percentage of sales than desktop for the first time, with 47% made on mobile compared to 40% of sales completed on desktop.

Google has rehashed its search algorithm to give priority to mobile sites over desktop versions and, expected to launch fully this year, will see smartphone success continue and companies focus their efforts on their mobile audience.

According to research, 80% of customers would rather self-serve to get the information that they require when it comes to booking holidays, giving additional reasons as to why they would prefer to book online. What’s more, it’s now not only possible, but also easier than ever to book an entire holiday from beginning to end on a smartphone.

Data suggests that 87% of customers in India are ‘comfortable researching, booking, and planning’ an entire holiday to a new location using a mobile device and, whilst the figure for those in the UK that feel comfortable doing so is slightly more modest (45%), it still shows that customers are becoming increasingly happy to bypass travel agents and search for themselves.

Phone screen

Has the high street been grounded?

But what does this mean for high street travel agents who have previously relied on customers looking for discounts, or those that prefer to deal with someone face-to-face? Online shopping is no longer confined to the youth market; indeed, over 65s have shown the biggest increase in the proportion of those that use online shopping in the past 10 years, rising from 16% - 48%. 24% of over 65s have booked holiday accommodation online in the past 12 months, just behind the 29% of 16-24-year-olds who have done so, showing how the gulf has closed.

One of the appeals of using a high street travel agent is with the discounts that they are able to offer when it comes to holiday packages. It is true that customers are still looking for discounts when booking holidays, but the availability of finding this online has led people to look online before going in-store.

Indeed, Awin’s study revealed that 34% of those surveyed took advantage of some form of reduced price (22% used discount code - saving 10% on average - whilst 12% used a cashback offer). What’s more, 55% of respondents revealed that they had used a comparison site at some point during the booking process, with the average savings as follows: £168 per return flight, £36 per night for accommodation, and £325 for a package holiday booking.

Berlin mall

A cheap solution

The proof is in the pudding in terms of customers making use of online discounts when booking holidays. Last year Awin saw a ‘28% increase in sales and 11% increase in clicks’ through their affiliate channel, this despite the instability of the political climate and the falling pound.

Another advantage when using smartphones to book holidays is that they facilitate last-minute bookings, which have become an increasingly popular method of booking. Customers are looking for last-minute deals online and Google Data has shown that travel related searches including the words ‘tonight’ and ‘today’ have grown by more than 150% on mobile in the past two years.

There is even evidence to suggest that this isn’t just a one way avenue; in other words, customers are not only looking to save money by booking last minute holidays, but are booking last minute holidays simply because there are deals. Indeed, it was found that as many as 60% of U.S. travellers would consider booking a holiday last minute, based purely on a good deal on flights or hotels. Whilst the data is based on American travellers, the trend of customers looking to save money when booking a holiday is widespread.

Once again, this cuts out the need for a travel agent, as these are typically deals that you would come across on the internet and book impulsively – which you can’t necessarily do on the high street.

Hat, sunglasses and camera

Given the increase in people booking holidays online, the increase in online bookings through smartphones and the savings that are available digitally, it is unsurprising that travel agents are used for a low percentage of holiday bookings. Indeed, 350 local travel agencies closed their doors for good in 2017, whilst only 32 new stores opened, signalling a considerable net decrease. Travel agencies suffered a more significant loss than both estate agencies and local banks.

What’s more, online travel agencies are dominating online search engines. For example, when searching for ‘hotel Tenerife’ online in the UK, the top 10 organic results were made up of online travel agencies as opposed to high street brands.

The research is there to suggest that customers are still searching for discounts when booking holidays, whether that be through the use of comparison sites, discount codes or cashback offers, and this should be used to target customers. Google’s new algorithm changes, compounded by an increased usage of smartphones in general, means that retailers should be increasingly focussing on targeting this medium, whether that be through social media presence or otherwise, in order to maximise returns.

By Claire Mullan, Head of Marketing, Awin

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