The Internet is forcing the North American travel industry to make dramatic changes, according to recent surveys of Web users in Canada and the United States.
In both countries consumers are increasingly turning to on-line sites to plan and book their travel, bypassing travel agents and making fewer phone calls to airlines, tourism offices, hotels and car-rental agencies. A new Ipsos-Reid survey of Canadian Internet users found that by the end of last year 59% have gone on-line at least once to research travel information, and 18% have used the Web to book some element of their travel plans.
In 1999, according to Statistics Canada, Canadians spent $19.6-billion travelling in Canada and $15.5-billion travelling outside the country. Figures for 2000 will be available in May. The survey found that among those who have not yet booked travel on-line, 26% plan to do so in the coming year, potentially doubling the on-line travel-booking business within the next year. This would be equivalent to almost six million Canadian adults using the Net to book travel by the end of 2001.
Compared to other on-line transactions, like retail shopping or on-line banking, travel booking on the Web will be the number one growth area for the Internet this year.
In a report on survey results, Ipsos-Reid said “perhaps the most substantial finding” of the Canadian survey was that 92% of Canadians who have booked an element of their travel on-line say that they are now using travel agents less because of the Internet.
The survey found that aircanada.ca is by far the favourite site for Canadian on-line travel bookers. A total of 29% of those who book on the Web say that aircanada.ca is their favourite site, a wide lead over Sabre
(6%), and Microsoft
`s spin-off travel site, Expedia.ca
Randy Williams, president of the Association of Canadian Travel Agents, said the negative impact of Internet use on travel agents has been wildly exaggerated. “The Internet is actually an opportunity for travel agents to expand their business,” said Williams. “Many travellers are using travel-agency Web portals to do their on-line research and, in the case of Travelocity, it is simply what we call an on-line travel agency. Travel agents can do better research using the Internet, and Web-savvy customers are better informed.” He said travel agents distribute 80% of all airline products now, and the airlines themselves estimate that even 10 years from now agents will be selling 60% of airline flights.
“The pie is also getting bigger,” said Williams, citing World Tourism Organization estimates that global travel will grow 4 to 6% annually for the next decade.
In the U.S., the on-line trend is much the same, except Americans appear to be much more willing to actually book their trips electronically.
According to new reports from the Travel Industry Association of America (TIA), more than 59 million Internet users in that country went on-line last year to gather information, or to check prices and schedules, growing 395% over the past three years. Of that group, 25 million actually purchased travel products or services on-line, a 384% growth from 1997.