It was one of the most startling survey results that Henry Harteveldt of Forrester Research had seen. And that's saying something, because Henry is the leading analyst of the online travel industry, and he has studied an awful lot of surveys over the years. Earlier in October, Henry released a report with his findings, "Are Online Travelers Saying "Buh-Bye" To The Web?"
He summed up the key findings for me in an interview yesterday:
"What really surprised me in this story was the number of people who use the Net on a regular basis and who travel often but who have stopped using the Internet for travel related planning or buying. In 2005 and 2006, about 20 percent of frequent Internet users and regular travelers had stopped using travel websites. But this year, the number had jumped to 30 percent."
About 30 percent of frequent Internet users had in effect thrown their hands up in the air and said they'd rather call a reservations agent or a travel agent to book their trips.
In short, the Internet is failing a large number of travelers. These are savvy people—who regularly shop online and who often have broadband Internet connections at home. And these are people who are comfortable traveling and who hit the road frequently. To lose these people's business is a terrible waste for everyone concerned.
Henry said that the surveyed travelers weren't singling out the online travel agencies, such as Expedia, Travelocity, and Orbitz. Travelers were damning all types of travel booking websites—run by agencies like Expedia, airlines like American, hotels like Sheraton, and meta-search sites like Sidestep. (Those are my examples of companies, not Henry's examples.)
Nine percent fewer people booked trips online this year than did a couple of years ago, according to the survey of about 60,000 Internet users by Forrester Research, which is a technology consultancy.
Another top consultancy, PhoCusWright noted a similar drop, plus a 6 percent jump in the number of people making travel plans without the Internet during roughly the same period as the Forrester survey.
Now, Henry makes two qualifications. While four out of every ten frequent Internet users are disappointed with travel websites, about six out of ten—or the majority—of frequent Internet users are happy with researching and booking travel on the Web. What's more, travel websites continue to rake in money. That's partly because they're becoming better at getting their wealthy customers to increase the amount of money that they spend buying airfares, hotel reservations, and other travel products online.