Online conversion rates lag face-to-face and phone bookings despite the vast increase in online travel search, say industry leaders.

Saga Travel chief executive Robin Shaw noted more than two-thirds of customers across all age groups now visited the tour operator online, but he said: “What is not changing rapidly is online conversion.”

Shaw told the Travel Convention in Seville: “We’re not seeing the jump change in conversion that we see in browsing. People are less trustful of entering data [online].”

Specialist Leisure Group chief executive Richard Calvert said: “We see exactly the same. The older generation seem to be more trusting of a voice than to put their card details into a phone.”

Dnata Travel Europe chief executive John Bevan insisted: “You need to be able to communicate with customers the way they want to communicate.”

That can still mean “telephone and face to face”, he said, adding: “Our B2B [brand] does a huge amount of business with the trade and has had a really solid time this year when B2C has had a more difficult time.

“Travel Republic is heavily online, [but] at Travelbag 90% of revenue is generated through calls and shops.”

Bevan added: “In 2008 when I was at Lastminute we were trying to move away from ‘Where do you want to go and when’. We have amazing technology, [but] we still can’t service that. When you go to an agent, they can serve that.”

He suggested: “A lot of people are going back to an agent. Millennials don’t care – my son just travelled to Japan on his own. But wait till they have kids – they will come back to you because they will want to speak to someone.”

Calvert agreed, arguing: “You can become channel obsessive. You should not push the customer.”

He pointed out: “The darling of private equity investors is Audley Travel – a great business, and it’s face-to-face.”

Travel Weekly is trade media partner of The Travel Convention
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