Generations – Study shows us the way forward

Leon Beckenham, travel editor, AOL UK

Online travel sales in the five major travel markets in Europe will total nearly $49 billion this year, up 27% on 2006. The numbers sound big but, in fact, we find ourselves still three years behind developments in the US travel market.

However, as the Travolution Generations study reveals, there are significant market forces at work that indicate the gap may be rapidly narrowing. Understanding those forces will be a key challenge for companies seeking to enter or expand in this market, which is why AOL has supported this in-depth study.

The scope moving forward for the online travel industry is immense and how individual travel companies meet the needs and expectations of the online community will increasingly come to govern who is successful in the future.

An understanding of what customers want and need from their online experience will become increasingly important, so that their expectations can be met and exceeded. I think there are largely two important trends to understand here – and both are borne out by the study’s findings.

The first is to understand how the Internet has created new ways for people to organise travel. The rise of the DIY attitude to travel is one that has become possible because of the Internet. Consumers now rely more on the web, rather than on visiting traditional travel agents.

Online travel companies will need to develop further ways of supporting this DIY approach, by not only increasing their dynamic packaging capabilities, but also allowing consumers access to the information that is necessary for them to make an informed and trusted decision.

That information is no longer limited to price which, although important, should not be seen as the only reason people look for travel information online. Consumers increasingly consider online sources more informative and trustworthy than offline sources; even if they then go on to book their trip via phone with a traditional travel agency.

The study reveals that a third of us use independent reviewer websites, compared to just 29% who consult a traditional high-street agent. Some 70% of us are influenced by the thoughts of online reviewers, a figure unimaginable just five years ago.

There are now more opportunities for the consumer than ever before, and it is vital for online organisations to understand how to make the most of the potential that the Internet offers. It is much more than just a transactional and research platform for the consumer: it gives the power to buy, experience, see, communicate, review and preview.

The second trend to come to grips with is the rapid rise of the Silver Surfer – those aged 55+. Not only is their demographic growing at a faster rate than any other but their new-found fondness for the Internet is a key driver for online travel growth. In addition to being avid travellers, and financially secure, they enjoy taking long, premium vacations, with over half spending £500 or more each on a holiday.

This study goes some way to understanding the holiday requirements of other demographic segments. The young adult population (15-34) accounts for 20% of global tourism and these young travellers are attracted to activity trips, especially those centred on sporting or adventure.

Their needs and requirements are therefore unique and companies need to be aware of what these users expect when they go online to research and book their travel plans. Among the working population, it is a case of providing information and packages that combine opportunities for those that have wealth but lack leisure time and seek shorter, memorable trips.

This study provides a valuable insight in to the core generations of our society. We will be using its finding to assess how we are moving forward and how we can meet the increasing demands of knowledge-hungry and time-deprived consumers.

It is interesting to note that while the majority of online users will visit multiple sites to research and book their travel, there is a strong desire for a one-stop-shop that provides the content and tools to fulfil each step of their travel experience, from inspiration to booking to post-trip review.

From our perspective, this reaffirms the relevance of an AOL Travel channel that aggregates articles, guides, video, travel deals, and price-comparison technology, and is moving to further integrate travel-related social networking and user-generated content tools.

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