Travel websites are replacing travel agents as the most popular way to book a holiday according to Thomson.
Travel industry figures show that more than half of all holidays and flights are expected to be booked online next year, which is the first time that web sales have overtaken the high street.
A new report shows that new online trends - blogging, podcasting, Google Earth and video streaming - combined with the rise of broadband in people’s homes is accelerating the rise of the virtual travel agent. Almost 20 million people are expected to book a flight or holiday online this year.
And it’s not just the ipod generation who are buying their sun, sea and culture online. Silver surfers in their 50s and 60s are the fastest growing group of web travel bookers.
Thomson confirmed that its online bookings are three years ahead of its predictions - half its own holidays and flights are currently booked online - this is up from 38% in 2005. The growth in online bookings is primarily down to the company’s investment in creating easy to use sites with new innovations, such as destinations videos. With 1800 videos available online Thomson is aiming to add a new dimension to the traditional holiday brochure by giving people more information and a better feel for the holiday before they buy it.
The nation’s thirst for exploring new horizons is on the increase. Thomson has seen an increase in online brochure requests and bookings for destinations such as Brazil, Dubai, Thailand, Western Australia and cruise holidays.
Miles Morgan, Thomson sales and marketing director, said: “Travel websites are effectively becoming virtual travel agents. The days when people picked a holiday from a brochure and walked into a travel agent to book are over. We have seen massive growth in online bookings over the last year as the site content expands and the booking process becomes easier and fun to use. ”
He added: “The trend for community sites is also impacting on how people buy holidays. People trust the opinions of other people so we have made it possible for customers to review holidays and post their opinions and pictures they have taken on our website - we currently have more than 5000 reviews. This is the newest phase of our ‘tell it like it is’ policy and commitment to giving our customers honest views about the trip before they buy.”
Thomson will take more than 5 million people on overseas trips this year, up from 4 million last year. Although package holidays are still popular, the increase in Thomson’s business is driven by more people pick and mixing their own flights, hotels and villas to build their own holiday.
Despite the growth in online travel Thomson still believes there is a role for travel agents in the future. The company has streamlined and enhanced its shop network over the last two years and now has 748 high street travel shops in prime shopping locations for customers who still want to discuss their travel plans face to face. But Thomson has diversified into new areas - such as selling overseas holiday homes - to cater for changing customer trends.