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Are retail travel agents headed down the wrong road?

The other day, I was catching up on a few past issues of Travel Weekly and was looking at the 2011 Consumer Trends Survey and darned near fell out of my seat at one of the graphics by PhoCusWright about where Online Travel Agency (OTA) shoppers actually book. For this report, they estimate that “about half of US travelers in 2010 were OTA shoppers.” Keep that number in mind for the next 353 words.

The good news is that compared to 2009, more OTA shoppers are coming into travel agencies. The bad news is that the retail agent (both online and offline) appears to be becoming an insignificant player in the travel game.

I don’t want to get into the waxing and waning of percentages year over year, but rather take a look at the figures purported to represent 2010—keep in mind that PhoCusWright estimates that half of all US travelers are considered OTA shoppers.

  • 47% of OTA shoppers actually purchase their travel with the OTA
  • 27% of OTA shoppers purchase their travel from the supplier’s website
  • 10% of OTA shoppers purchase their travel from the supplier’s call center
  • 4% of OTA shoppers purchase their travel from a retail travel agency website
  • 4% of OTA shoppers purchase their travel by calling/visiting a retail travel agency
  • 8% of OTA shoppers are not sure (certainly not a client I would seek out)

84 % of OTA shoppers buy their travel from the OTA or the supplier. If true, doesn’t that number scare you?

Obviously the travel pie is a huge pie and can feed many people; and the 8% is quite probably plenty to keep our bellies full. But the question that came to the front of my mind was, if the retail sector only captures 8% of the market, why are we investing in the time and technology of booking engines and online reference tools? Only to capture 8%?

The study indicates that in 2008 we captured 9% of that share. 10% in 2009; and now 2010 is down to 8%. Yet I know that I have increased my technology budget and the amount of time spent courting that online shopper has increased significantly.

By definition (by PhoCusWright) there are an equal number of non-OTA shoppers buying travel. If true, I would think that the retail agent has a much better chance of capturing that client. Do you think this study demands a review o our online marketing efforts? Are we wasting time and money with the new technology? Let’s discuss!

  3 thoughts on “Are retail travel agents headed down the wrong road?

  1. For me it’s an education process … me educating “them” (with “them” being the current as well as the prospective clients) … educating them on what OTAs can and cannot do for them (OTAs can give them a starting point to work from; OTAs cannot qualify them and offer them a property or experience that the OTA doesn’t have available).

  2. Yvonne Mac says:

    For some of these reasons and the the ease of people booking their own all inclusives and vegas, etc… vacations through online sites such as Expedia, I am in the process of changing my agency over to a very specialized field that people just simply can not get on these online sites.

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