The trade has questioned the validity of the latest research into online holiday booking trends by Mintel that led to the latest headlines declaring the death of the high street travel agent.
As reported yesterday on travelweekly.co.uk, the Mintel research claimed to find that seven in 10 UK holidaymakers book their trips ‘entirely online’.
The research also found that over half believe they can get a better deal online and 40% said they enjoy putting together their own holiday on the internet.
But the executive summary of the research reveals that the study was carried out among ‘internet users aged 16 plus’, leading to accusations that the investigation was skewed from the outset.
Travel Counsellors chairman David Speakman described the findings as "lies, damned lies and statistics” due to the flawed methodology employed by Mintel.
“Asking people who book holidays across the web if they believe booking holidays across the web is the future, is similar to our Travel Counsellors believing our surveys showing that because our customers like our service it means the end of online travel agents,” he said.
“The industry is constantly changing, order takers are dead and customers want impartial trusted advice. Let's have research that doesn't first start with an answer then work backwards.”
John McEwan, Abta chairman and chief executive of the Advantage Travel Centres consortium, conceded the internet has taken market share but that its advance had slowed.
“There is no question the internet has taken market share over the years but what we have seen over the past two or three years is a stabilisation of the business being transacted on the high street.
“It’s a fallacy to say prices are cheaper online and also the amount of time people spend having to browse online is not maybe the most productive use of their time.
“People want choice and some people are very comfortable booking holidays online and that’s a channel that’s available to them – we have many members in Advantage and Abta who offer that.
“But equally there is a significant proportion of people - we estimate around a quarter - who want to deal with a high street travel agent. It’s about expertise and knowledge.
“We all know about the growth of the internet and we all know in the commoditised sector it’s easy to go online and book it.”
McEwan also questioned the validity of research that only asked internet users for their views. “Yes the importance of the high street has diminished over the past 10 years, but it’s always going to have a role to play.
“The internet has taken a reasonably large proportion of the available business but it has come from a standing start.”
Laurence Hicks, director of the tour operator and holiday rentals company CLC Leisure, said: “This story crops up with monotonous regularity.
“Even before the advent of the internet there were predictions that travel agents would disappear when tour operators started selling direct. And yet many years on they are still here along the length and breadth of the country.
“Sure, online bookings have taken market share from the high street but that’s nearly all been in the bog standard commodity travel business.
“The high street agent provides an expertise and added-value service that online providers cannot hope to match, especially when it comes to complex and premium travel arrangements.
“To suggest that high street agents are going to become extinct because of competition from the online sector is like suggesting that NHS Direct is going to replace GP's surgeries. It’s just not going to happen.”
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