Generations – Diary of buying travel online

Ask consumers to recall how they booked a travel product on the Internet and a typical response is “went to Google” or “had a look on”.

But the process is clearly far more intricate and it is often difficult for consumers to remember every twist and turn.

We asked four people, representing different age groups (16-24, 25-34, 35-54 and 55+), to keep a diary of every move they made during two tasks.

  • 1) Book a two-day, short-haul holiday for two people, including flights/rail travel to any destination. Do not spend more than £500 inclusive.

  • 2) Book a two-week, long-haul holiday for two people, including flights/rail travel to any destination. Do not spend more than £3,000 inclusive.

Each person was asked to note every search term and site they visited, including review sites and search engines.

Elizabeth Wright, Age: 21, recent graduate – now office administrator

£500 trip

  • Go to Google. Type in ‘weekend breaks in Europe’.

  • Go to first link: Expedia.

  • Scroll down and look at offers. Click on offers to Prague.

  • First hotel is £256 per person for two nights at Yasmin Hotel. Click on link to hotel but price is too expensive.

  • Scroll down. Find the five-star President Hotel Casino Prague.

  • Price is £468. Click on hotel details and all looks good.

  • Click ‘continue’, but can only book three nights and I need two.

  • Return to Prague menu and click on ‘change flights’ but all are three nights.

  • Come back to Expedia page.

  • Edinburgh for two nights. Look for prices £400-500. The Glasshouse Edinburgh is a four-star – and in town.

  • Click on ‘continue and buy’. It’s £469 for two people from Sept 20-22. This is a possibility, so save to favourites. Come back to Google

  • Try – cheap weekend breaks in Amsterdam.

  • Look for four-star hotels. Click on ‘Vondel’ – can’t get in. Try others and still cannot get in.

  • Come back to home. Cheap breaks in Paris, click on ‘Mercure Tour Eiffel’ – four-star, next to Eiffel Tower. Click on ‘book’ but have to register to look at flights and prices – too much hassle.

  • Go back to Google. Click on next link:

  • Enter ‘Paris, two people, Sept 21-23’; look for best stars I can afford.

  • Find Hotel Auteuil Tour Eiffel, four-star. Click on hotel details. Near the Eiffel Tower, old part of town.

  • Hotel looks nice. Prices include train times. Think train might be nicer then flying and Waterloo is very easy for me to get to. Click ‘change times’.

  • The last I can change to is 10.20am so click to confirm. The next page offers me a deluxe double for £34 and I still have money left over so I tick this.

  • On the next page I am offered standard insurance £24. I just have enough money, so confirm this too.
    A total price of £496

£3,000 trip

  • Having been recommended the Caribbean, I have always wanted to go, but I am not limited to this destination.

  • Google: search ‘two weeks’ holidays in the Caribbean’. Click on first link,

  • This is a link that leads to other sites. Click on first one of these:

  • Enter in all hotels, two people, 14 nights, October 27.

  • Look at offers. Cheapest is the St Lucian, but even this is too expensive and I want all inclusive.

  • Go back to and click on next link, First Choice Holidays.

  • Enter in same destinations, dates etc. However, they only allow you to look at Mexico and Caribbean holidays and there doesn’t seem to be any to the Caribbean – all to Mexico.

  • Go back to First Choice home page and look at offers. See there is an offer to Kenya at Whitesands resort.

  • Hotel all-inclusive, four-star, beach. Looks good. However, when I look at pricing the longest you can go for is 11 days and I am looking for 14.

  • Go back to Google and type in ‘two weeks’ all-inclusive beach holiday’.

  • Click on first link: On The Beach Holidays.

  • Look for holidays in Caribbean with similar dates but all say there is nothing suitable.

  • Click on next link: Thomas Cook. All these holidays seem too cheap and there are none to the Caribbean for suitable dates

  • Start thinking maybe I won’t go to the Caribbean as there seems to be nothing suitable. Have always wanted to go to New Zealand so go to Google and type in ‘two weeks’ holiday in New Zealand’.

  • Click on first link: DialAFlight.

  • However, this only seems to be for hotels and I don’t really want to book flights and hotels separately. I look at other links on the page but these all seem to be for tours, which is not what I’m looking for.

  • Go back to Google and type in ‘two weeks’ all-inclusive beach holidays’.

  • At the side of the page there is a link for Mark Warner, which I have heard is good so I click on this. Type in ‘any destination, two weeks’.

  • Comes up with two holidays for about right price and they both look nice. However, when I click to look further it doesn’t let me.

  • So I come back and go for Tropical Sky. Click on ‘Caribbean holidays’.

  • See an offer for all-inclusive in St Lucia – £1,409 per person, Almond Morgan Bay Beach Resort for two weeks in November, includes flights, transfers and a hotel.

  • This looks promising. The hotel looks good. Click on other St Lucian hotels, look at others but they’re all too expensive or not all-inclusive. Save this link to favourites.

  • Look at Barbados. Almond Casuarina Beach Resort has offers on too. However, I have heard Barbados is an expensive island so decide the St Lucia one would be better.

  • So I look at booking the Almond Morgan Bay Beach Resort in St Lucia. You can’t book online but there is an option to type in all your details and they call you back immediately. So I do this.

  • It will be £2,818 for two people. This leaves money left over for insurance

Max Latimer, Age: 29, recruitment consultant

£500 trip

  • Always enjoyed Dublin but not been for a couple of years. Therefore opened

  • Need to depart from Gatwick. As we live in South London it is easier to drive and park at Gatwick after leaving our nine-month-old son with his Grandma, who lives in East Sussex.

  • Departing from tab – London Gatwick, destination tab – Dublin

  • Click ‘return flights’. Leaving on Friday September 21 and returning Sunday September 23.

  • Select flights: Outbound – 10am arrives Dublin at 11.15am; return – 11.40am arrives at 12.55pm.

  • Select and continue. Total = £231.42. Click that I accept terms. Confirm.

  • Enter in passenger details, decline insurance as we have annual holiday insurance. Also do not need to pay for additional luggage as only there for two nights.

  • Enter in address and contact details of lead passenger (me) including e-mail address, which you have to enter twice to confirm it.

  • Click again to confirm the terms again and then click continue. Summary page where I enter my payment details.

  • That’s it – flights are booked now need a hotel….

  • Go to Google search engine. Search for ‘hotels in Dublin’ under the UK search function.

  • Open the first link:

  • Find city centre hotels – Gresham looks to be in budget, according to the initial description.

  • Click ‘Book This Hotel’ by secure Internet link. Enter required dates – September 21-23. One double bedroom. Click book.

  • End up not in the screen to book the Gresham, but instead with a list of hotels that are available for these dates.

  • Click on Browns link, which seems to be close to city centre and in budget (quick change of venue!). Click ‘Book This Hotel’.

  • Enter in all my personal details, including my payment details, and click proceed.

  • Total for the two nights on the hotel = £264.

  • Total for weekend = £495.42

£3,000 trip

  • Have always enjoyed the Caribbean islands and have heard about a smaller, less developed island called Nevis.

  • Having spoken to friends who have been, they said the best thing to do would be to rent a villa so we can enjoy the local restaurants and some of the true culture.

  • Go to Check dates of Easter next year, so that we can make use of the extra bank holidays to help with the days that we need to take.

  • Easter falls on March 23 so will want to work holiday around that….

  • Right, BA. Know that we need to fly to Antigua and then on to Nevis from there. Select two adults and one child infant under two – this trip my son will come with us!

  • Looks to be cheaper to fly out on the Thursday so select that day. Return flight back on Thursday April 3. Select both these days and click ‘continue’. Select flight out and return, only one flight on each.

  • Click ‘continue’. Total = £1,248.

  • Click to accept terms and then continue.

  • Enter in all personal details, including BA executive club card number for the air miles, and again decline the insurance as we have annual cover.

  • Click ‘continue’ and this brings up the payment details page. Click on to Google to find a villa.

  • Search criteria: ‘Nevis’. Second link down is the official link of the tourist board of Nevis.

  • Click this and then click on ‘Where to stay’.

  • This brings up a number of different links to companies and rental companies. Find what I am looking for on a link called,

  • Find a nice looking villa called Carombola that is near to the beach. It’s $425 a night for the villa for 14 nights = $5,950 = approximate cost is £3,000.

  • It’s going to go over budget but is also going to be a once-in-a-lifetime trip so I’ll take the hit on the flights and the villa looks amazing.

  • There is no way to book this on the Internet, so will have to call them to book over the phone.

  • That’s it – all booked, slightly over budget but only the flights.

John O’Neill, Age: 44, care manager

£500 trip

  • I clicked on to MSN homepage and then clicked on ‘travel’

  • I then went in to the section and chose the ‘flights and hotel’ option.

  • Destination choice was Amsterdam.

  • I clicked on to LGW (London Gatwick) for the departure, putting in my departure/arrival dates, then clicked ‘search’ followed by ‘price’.

  • I was offered a selection of hotels at various prices, but chose the Golden Tulip, a four-star hotel. The total cost was £498 based on two people sharing and staying for two nights.

  • I selected this by clicking ‘Choose’ and then continue.

  • I was then asked to input my credit card details. All done in 10 minutes!

£3,000 trip

  • I clicked on to the Orange home page and selected ‘travel’.

  • I was offered a selection of options and chose ‘sun holidays’ and entered October 5-19 as arrival/departure dates.

  • This took me into Thomson Holidays and a number of worldwide destinations were listed.

  • I felt restricted by the fact that I was limited to Thomson only, so I came out of there and typed in

  • I clicked ‘beach and resort’ under the category of ‘types of holiday’. I then input my dates October 5-19.

  • Upon clicking ‘search’ I was presented with a list of 23 available holidays to book.

  • I explored the search criteria remaining mindful of the price – which varied considerably from one holiday to another.

  • I chose a holiday in Thailand in a five-star hotel – total price: £2,878, based on 14 nights and two people sharing (including flights).

  • The hotel was situated in Krabi – the Sheraton.

  • I selected this by clicking ‘choose’ and then ‘continue’ and I was then requested to submit my credit card details to authorise the payment.

Carolyn Trollope, Age: 59, Bed and breakfast proprietor

£500 trip

  • Googled short breaks to Paris.

  • Clicked first option – Paris Breaks Driveline.

  • Viewed selection of hotels, chose one, but it was not near enough to the centre, so back to all hotels.

  • Viewed Mercure Paris, four-star, looked good, viewed all the pictures.

  • Clicked ‘how to book’ but although highlighted in yellow I actually had to go to top of page and click ‘to get a quote and booking’.

  • Clicked ‘set price breaks’. Selected London Waterloo Eurostar. Selected August. Selected Tuesday. Selected two nights. All hotel dates and prices appeared.

  • Selected chosen hotel for £251 per adult for bed and breakfast.

  • Information came up with all details. Clicked ‘select’.

  • Hotel itinerary came up. Had to choose travel times. Secure notice came up, clicked on want to see secure and non secure items. Clicked on ‘proceed’.

  • Travel times didn’t come up but filled in passenger details. Clicked wrong button and LOST EVERYTHING!!

  • Found out how to get it back by clicking on bottom bar.

  • Offered extras – didn’t want any so clicked proceed. Final price was £502 and all stations and train times came up in a very good itinerary.

  • Filled in card details and booked.

£3,000 trip

  • Googled ‘luxury resorts Naples Florida’. Clicked La Player Beach and Golf.
  • Clicked ‘photo gallery’ – didn’t like it, too big.
  • Returned to original site. Clicked Thought I would get lots of hotels but misread the site so clicked back and clicked on
  • Not on the beach, so no good. Back again. Clicked on sponsored sites but got a newsletter on golf. Googled ‘Luxury Villas’ instead.
  • Clicked Naples Florida Villas and it came up with the whole of Florida and no mention of Florida Villas at all.
  • Clicked on ‘destination’ and came up with all over the world – too much trouble so back to websites on Google.
  • Clicked on ‘sponsored links Naples Villas’ and it came up with Disney sites – hopeless.
  • Clicked back and on to Naples Florida Flamingo Palm, four beds etc: luxury villa.
  • Looked lovely, but too big and prices didn’t say if they were for a week or two.
  • Clicked on ‘e-mail’ and sent one asking for price for two people, got reply really quickly but decided a hotel would be better.
  • Back to hotel listings. Clicked on ‘Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort’.
  • Clicked ‘photos’ but they looked horrible. Clicked ‘Beachfront Luxury Spa’ – looked good.
  • Clicked ‘reservations’, clicked rates and filled in dates and superior room for $3,680, clicked currency converter and it came out at £1,840. Clicked on proceed. Filled in reservation information, with my credit card ready to press buy.
  • Flights next. Googled ‘flights to naples florida’.
  • Clicked on ‘cheap flights’ to Naples [Cheapflights].
  • Clicked on ‘place of residence’ – filled in London to Naples. Filled in London to Fort Myers. Best flights came and Opodo looked good.
  • Checked on website and filled in date details. No direct flight, but okay with one stopover with US Airways. Clicked ‘select’ at £332.50 each and then clicked add to basket.
  • Car hire was suggested on same page so clicked there and selected a car for £232.20 and clicked ‘checkout’ then ‘continue’. Filled in all details, clicked ‘continue’. Delivery and payment option – booked paper ticket.
  • Filled in card details. Tick to say read terms and conditions and click Ready to buy.

Different groups show their age

When it comes to purchasing travel online, it seems the observation that some of us are ‘Digital Natives’ and others of us will only ever achieve ‘Tourist’ status is a pertinent one – certainly if Travolution’s fascinating study into four holidaymakers’ booking patterns is anything to go by.

The four diaries show marked differences in how various age ranges use the Internet.

Younger, in this case, equates to confidence; older users try to adapt Internet applications to how they are used to receiving information. 

Youthful under 30s confidently dip in and out of sites, bookmark their favourites and generally create their own virtual holiday brochures. This makes the ultimate booking process quick and easy.

The over 30s in this research seem more cautious in their shopping and booking habits, preferring that their Internet providers search for them. While they enjoy the visual impact of websites, they also lose pages of information. They prefer tangible printouts at the end of the booking process, too.

I am also struck by shoppers’ impatience while online. For example, there is a propensity toward rapid switching between hotel choices, and dissatisfaction when pricing displays are too slow.

Site ‘stickiness’ and efficacy are clearly a critical factor for travel providers if they are to capture every booking made, yet every diary has comments about information getting lost, sites being too slow or simply not looking attractive enough – prompting bookers to toggle away to book elsewhere, sometimes settling for a more expensive option. 

Hotels, airlines and every other provider hosting travel websites today must invest in the right tools to make travel booking as enjoyable and simple as possible for online buyers.

Access to a wide range of content, and rich media content in particular, is vital. Price and date comparison functionalities are key, and so is the ability to capture personal feedback about the customer’s buying experience – this will be an increasingly influential factor for success, especially if unbiased integrity is maintained.

A robust back-office fulfilment and customer communications platform is also critical for websites today. 

Finally, what would we do in a Google-less world? Let me see if I can Google that….

Graham Nichols, vice-president and general manager, EMEAA, Worldspan by Travelport

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