US consumers go direct despite OTAs axing fees

Moves by online travel agents (OTAs) to remove fees for booking flights has not stopped consumers going direct to airline sites, research in the US suggests.

A report by online travel analyst PhoCusWright shows US OTAs are still losing consumers to airline websites when it comes to booking.

PhoCusWright’s Online Traffic and Conversion survey, carried out in conjunction with web-analytics company Compete, found an average 11% of consumers shopping for flights on OTAs ended up booking direct during a single month in the second quarter of 2009 – the same proportion as in the identical period in 2008.

At the same time, 83% of all online flight-only bookers in the US booked direct with the carrier in both periods.

Airline site conversion rates are also higher than for OTAs, at 11.6% of visitors in the second quarter of 2009 and 12% in 2008. However, the average OTA conversion rate has risen from 7% in 2008 to 8.5% in the second quarter of 2009 – possibly driven by the removal of booking fees.

Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity and other OTAs dropped fees for the majority of online flight bookings initially as a trial before deciding to waive fees on almost all flights in May-June this year.

The PhoCusWright report also identifies the growth in social networks as a significant referral source over the past two years. Budget carrier Southwest Airlines now receives 3.57% of its online traffic from Facebook.

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