by Nick Trend, The Telegraph, October 16, 2017
How did you book your last holiday? In a travel agent’s shop? On the telephone? Online? The chances are that it was online. According to figures published this week by the trade body Abta, some 83 per cent of us now book our holidays online.
I think this is an extraordinarily high figure and one that is made all the more remarkable by the fact that less than half of all bookings (45 per cent) are now made with a travel company or agent, and only 17 per cent by people walking into a travel agent’s shop.
Interestingly, I’m not sure that the travel trade has fully taken on board the reality of what’s happening here. Abta described this figure of 17 per cent – which had dropped from 19 per cent in the same survey last year – as an indication that the situation was remaining “steady”. I’d say it looked like a significant decline and a clear indication that people are continuing to turn away from the traditional, face-to-face sources of advice when it comes to booking holidays.
In fact, I think it is the question of where people are getting advice and inspiration on how and where to travel that is more interesting than the technicality of whether they actually end up booking online, over the phone, or in a shop. It is a much harder, more nebulous trend to track, of course. The story is never a simple one and nearly always involves multiple factors – advice from friends, inspiration from social media, newspaper and magazine articles and so on. But research online has clearly become by far the most important source.
I’ve heard various figures for the average number of different websites that people visit before they book a holiday – all involve a figure over 30. This may well be a sign that they are finding it hard to track down good advice, but it also indicates a strong and independent urge to find things out for ourselves, rather than fall back on the traditional services offered by the travel industry.
A few other interesting nuggets also emerged from the survey. Despite all the economic problems and the uncertainty caused by Brexit, the number of holidays being taken is increasing – from three a year in 2014 to very nearly four this year (3.8 to be exact). That’s an extraordinarily steep rise, especially given that nearly half of those holidays (1.7 a year, up from 1.2 in 2014) were to overseas destinations.
The most popular type of holiday – accounting for 53 per cent of these figures – was city breaks, with beach holidays at 43 per cent. But the potential for the fastest growth seems to be in cruising, which we know is already especially popular with Telegraph readers. The primary reason for cruising’s appeal – a reason given by some 80 per cent of respondents – was the “chance to see multiple destinations”.
Taking into account all the other types of holiday taken, including breaks to the countryside, lakes and mountains, plus escorted tours and activity holidays, the overall picture is clear. The traditional sun and sand holiday is still popular, but more and more of us are interested less in lying on a beach than we are in doing and seeing things. We are becoming a nation not so much of holidaymakers, but of travellers – independent travellers who are prepared to spend a lot of time and effort researching where we go and how we get there.