OTAs (Online Travel Agencies) are a holdover from the era of buying airline tickets from one of the major airlines, and have lots of advantages over today’s alternatives. Among these is the convenience of searching for your desired travel dates and destinations over the Internet without having to call or visit a travel agent. Prices are usually competitive with those of the main airlines, and more importantly, you don’t have to be a frequent flyer to get the best deals.

The online travel industry has been under a microscope lately, as many travelers are turning to a new generation of booking tools to find the best prices. But the online travel booking industry is also changing how travelers book their trips.

Over the last few years, a growing number of travelers have begun to realize that the major online travel agencies aren’t the best place to book travel. With price-comparison tools like Kayak and Google Flights, booking flights, hotels, and car rentals has become easier than ever before, and cheaper than ever—and now, travelers are taking advantage of this.

As a result of the pandemic, many travelers had flights, hotel rooms, tours and more cancelled, and many never got their money back.

The practice now seems to have made a lasting impression and booking behaviour is changing accordingly.

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A new study by GlobalData shows that travelers prefer to book directly with companies and not with online travel agencies.

In a recent survey, 39% of respondents said they usually book directly, followed by 17% who opt for OTAs and price comparison sites.

Current trend

Travelers Shift Away From Booking With OTAs

The pandemic has led to a significant shift in consumer booking patterns, says Gus Gardner, associate travel and tourism analyst at GlobalData. A previous survey for Q3 2019 found that OTAs are the most popular booking option, followed by booking directly with a hotel or airline. However, some OTAs have been very slow to refund and have received bad press as a result. This has undermined travellers’ confidence in booking through intermediaries.

Could this be an opportunity for travel consultants? One of the reasons Gardner gives is that travelers need flexibility.

Direct booking channels have likely experienced an uptick in popularity due to the volatility of travel bookings in the current climate, Garnder said. Today’s travelers are looking for maximum flexibility, so it’s no wonder that flexible direct booking channels, easy changes and quick refunds appeal to travelers.

Gardner also says travelers want to control their movements.

The ability to make changes online puts the power in the hands of the traveler and simplifies the whole process, he said. By booking directly, the traveler gets rid of the middleman, the exchange/return process is much faster and they are more satisfied.

If direct booking puts the power back in the hands of the consumer, travel advisors need to show their customers that they can further simplify the travel process. One phone call to a counselor and they have a lawyer to defend them. It’s the equivalent of booking directly with someone who does all the work for you.

In the post-travel pandemic world, advisors also need to talk about their difficulties in reimbursing clients.

Gardner notes that research by GlobalData has found that many consumers are turning away from OTA services because of slow refunds.

Confidence in the OTA’s ability to make refunds quickly is eroding, he noted. The slow response was incredibly frustrating and has led us to abandon this method of booking a bit.

Travel consultants who have helped their clients obtain refunds will also see a benefit.

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