Thomson has forecast gloomy times ahead for online travel agents as consumers increasingly turn to tour operators or airlines and hotels selling products direct via the internet.
Sales and marketing director Miles Morgan said the “Dotcom darlings are in decline” during an industry briefing today in London.
Unveiling research carried out by parent company TUI into European Travel Attitudes, Miles said 36% of consumers searched for products direct at an airline website, with 32% turning to a tour operator site, 31% at a destination portal and 25% with an online travel agency.
Figures from online analysts Hitwise revealed TUI’s site visits had increased alongside those for First Choice, Thomas Cook and MyTravel during the past year, while those for Sabre and Cendant owned companies, Expedia, Teletext, Airline Network had declined, Morgan said.
“The traditional players are all in the decline,” Morgan argued, suggesting the reason for their early growth was because of technology.
The “killer” advantage now, he added, is in the quality of product now available online, which many online travel agents do not have.
Thomson used the briefing to reveal that 50% of its business was now carried out online, three years ahead of forecast.
It also unveiled a raft of new products including downloadable audio guides, launching with Paris attractions such as Notre Dame, The Louvre and Montmartre, which will be available for 5 Euros but may be bundled as part of a booking.
Thomson.co.uk has earmarked further growth into the dynamic packaging arena as it looks to move into so-called component or Design Your Own holidays.
Morgan said: “By the end of this year people will be able to book practically anything on Thomson.”
However John Bevan, Lastminute.com holiday and flight director, hit back by claiming the migration of the Big Four had been expected.
“As far as we are concerned the moves by the likes of Thomson into the online sector is only a good thing as they are bringing new customers into the online arena,” he said.
“The fact that Thomson are going through an expected struggle to balance online sales versus those through their high street shops, and also leaving independent agents confused and uncertain is a continuing challenge for them to face in the short and long term.”