State of the Nation – Consumer report

Young consumers are web-savvy and confident, right? Not necessarily so, as exclusive research from Metro reveals. Linda Fox reports.

Generation ‘X’ is not the Internet savvy, not bothered with the high street, group of young trendy things we have been led to believe it is.

Quite the opposite, according to research into the holiday and travel buying habits of UK city dwellers, aged somewhere between 18 and 44.

It seems the youngest members of this group, the 18 to 24-year olds who have grown up with the Internet, still need some hand holding when it comes to booking travel.

The survey reveals 13% of 18 to 24-year olds sought the advice of a travel agent or consultant on the phone.

It also reveals 30% of the same age group opted for packages as opposed to putting travel and accommodation together themselves when going away for a holiday of a week or more.

The findings can be attributed to several factors. Either so-called urbanites are living at home and therefore under the influence of their parents or, more likely, the technology and even confidence in the technology, is still not there.

This is further reinforced with 17% of 18 to 24-year olds never having made a travel booking online.

If that hasn’t blown a few myths out of the water then responses to questions about mobile technology go a step further.

According to the research, 55% of those questioned across all age groups on the likelihood of making a travel booking via a mobile phone said it was not at all likely. A further 30% said it was ‘not that likely’.

This may come as a shock to the likes of and Cosmos which have already invested in partnerships with the network companies and other mobile technology providers to offer travel on mobile devices.

Despite an apparent reticence among some Generation X-ers to book travel on the Internet, the investment of tour operators and online travel agents is clearly beginning to pay off.

A massive 68% of respondents said they used the web to research their trip every time they wanted to go away.

Almost 60% of those who did purchase a holiday on the web booked online direct with the supplier, while a further 11% booked on the phone or in person direct with the supplier.

Of those that did book a trip online, the majority, 97%, were confident they got the best price and this is most likely down to the ability to shop around and compare prices.

Pricing is still a key factor and it seems the Internet maintains its image as a dumping ground for distressed inventory. Questions on the cost per trip revealed many people, 22%, only spent between £200 and £399 on a holiday of a week or more.

The study questioned consumers specifically on the best and worst elements of the online travel experience and, unsurprisingly, low prices and bargains emerged as the top response.

Interestingly, only around one fifth of respondents – in both city break and holiday categories – said they used a search engine to find a travel website, contrasting with almost 40% that went directly to a web address and, perhaps surprisingly, 15% who had a site saved in their bookmarks.

Consumers are also looking to book a holiday well in advance of departure – around 35% booked two to three months ahead and just 6% of city-break fans confirmed plans in the final week.

Meanwhile, the growing enthusiasm for providing additional tools and information to users has been buoyed with downloads for products such as maps (41%), electronic brochures (27%) and guidebooks (16%) appearing popular. Podcasts, somewhat unexpectedly, are less so with just 3%.

Thankfully for the customer relationship management side of online businesses, half of respondents are receiving regular e-mail bulletins, but an equal number admit to only occasionally reading them when they have the time.

Travel on the Internet is a victim of its own success in the transparency it has brought to the market.

While many companies claim the average spend on travel on the Internet is rising, it seems the punters are still after a good deal. And, this year’s disastrous sales figures and unsold capacity are unlikely to do anything to change that pattern.

Other responses about likes on the web included speed, convenience and avoiding a travel agent, although this was countered by these same elements appearing on the dislikes list. Trawling the web is time-consuming and consumers often found the lack of personal contact and customer service frustrating.

It will be a rich man, or woman, who manages to combine the speed, convenience and choice of the Internet with the support and personal touch of a good independent travel agent, or is that person already out there?

Victoria Sanders Teletext Holidays, online head of sales

Travel is one of the most popular purchases online – 20% of users have booked travel online in the past three months. So why isn’t the 18 to 24-year old generation booking online?

A lack of student/youth discounts from most online travel companies and a generation most likely to book a round-the-world gap year trip, which has many limitations when trying to book online, could all be influencing their decision. Not the most affluent of consumers, value for money rates highly among this age group.

They are not necessarily looking for a cheap holiday, but one that is good value. To stop the perception of the web being a dumping ground for cheap package holidays, operators must encourage higher spending and higher prices by changing their offering online. The younger generation will soon be the key purchasers of travel – we should be nurturing relationships with them to ensure brand loyalty later in life.

Guest editor David Soskin, Cheapflights

The recent market research carried out by Metro’s Urban Life panel has revealed some interesting details about the younger generation that may puzzle many Internet travel companies, especially those who consider themselves safe in the knowledge that every young person possesses the computer capabilities and enthusiasm of half of NASA.

The average 18 to 24-year old would appear to be much less confident with doing everything at the click of a button than previously assumed.

An undeniable factor in this is the simple fact that the Internet will never 100% be able to  replace a human being for every travel need.

Research on the Internet can only go so far, whereas a travel agent can intelligently cater for any needs in real time.

This survey demonstrates the still-conflicting values of speed and detail, which means that any travel Internet company trying to cut out the human element entirely is walking on the razor’s edge.

Doug Read, executive director, Metro Newspapers

Congratulations to most of you who will read this edition of Travolution. History suggests that surviving a revolution requires quick thinking, an acute sense of the public mood, a persuasive manifesto, great timing and the odd bit of luck.

This particular revolution has been exploding continuously for a decade. So, for those of you who have successfully built brands, services and systems, well done.

Exaggerated language? Not considering the results of our research into the travel market. For the majority of our young, urban, working audience, online is considered the first and only port of call.

It is worth pointing out that our own Urban Life research panel, which produced this update, is also totally web-based. It was the only suitable methodology to use when researching Metro’s audience. Flexible, convenient, quick and easy.

Online has changed our commercial world. This is all quite interesting coming from a man whose company still produces its core product using dead trees. What is this all about? An impostor within your midst. How old-fashioned! Well, hopefully not. We have positive, mutually beneficial relationships with many of the top brands within the online travel market.

But while we are on the subject of old-fashioned, let me address two points that are evident within the research. What is not changed by online is the need to deliver a decent, targeted and tailored product. That’s a marketing concept as old as, well, newspapers. And related to this revolutionary concept, what was the overwhelming top negative comment about online travel services? Lack of customer service or, put in even more basic terms, the human touch.

So, with many firms using low-cost business delivery mechanisms that help to drive low-cost travel options, will the service that wins in the future be the one with ‘warmth’?

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