History of online travel – 1998
Although technology companies are moving at a fast pace, there are two key issues that need to be addressed before the Internet can move forward.
Figures from the Association of Independent Tour Operators show half of its members have access to the Internet, yet far fewer have a website themselves. When it comes to agents, many are still to sign up to Internet access.
This shows that getting the industry’s buy-in is crucial. Many see the Internet as ‘hype’ and many fear the unknown.
The second problem comes from consumers. A survey by Visa shows 65% of consumers believe Internet shopping is unsafe.
In March, Visa and Mastercard announce they will launch technology later in the year, called Secure Electronic Transaction, which they claim will allow secure bookings to be made over the Internet.
The system, being developed in conjunction with Abbey National, NatWest and Lloyds TSB is piloted European-wide.
By April, it is apparent the Internet explosion hasn’t taken the business travel community by storm, either.
A survey by MORI for Carlson Wagonlit Travel shows only 11% of companies are booking travel electronically. The figure is broken down into 7% who e-mail their travel management company, and just 4% who use the Internet.
Those surveyed say they find electronic booking simply too time-consuming and, often unsure of whether the system will work properly, or because they may need to make complicated bookings, they prefer to speak to an agent.
Use of the Internet as a research tool, though, is starting to pick up pace, and companies that have invested in a website are generating some return.
For example, tailor-made and long-haul flight specialist The Travel Bug reports one in three telephone calls it receives are from people who have heard about the company on the Internet. It raises an interesting point, that the Internet can help companies pick up business from outside their immediate catchment area.
Things may be slow to come to fruition in the UK, but over in the US, web usage is stepping up and once again, it is the hotel companies that are reporting much of the growth.
Come August, Utell International reports an increase in online sales of 35% month-on-month on its site, HotelBook.
The site, launched 18 months ago, initially only listed hotel information, but was developed to handle sales in November 1997. Of the 5,500 hotels on the site, some 30% have now received online reservations.
By September, Choice Hotels International reports bookings have more than tripled in the first seven months of the year, compared to the same period in 1997.
Travel companies are beginning to grasp the Internet, signing deals with technology suppliers.
In January, network provider Imminus signs a £360,000 deal with Bakers Dolphin to install Internet capabilities in each of the agency’s 52 shops.
In March, Worldspan launches Worldspan Added Value Emulator, or WAVE, and Carnival Cruise Lines becomes the first cruise company to sell on the system.
In the same month, Thomson launches its website, which includes a jobs section.
In April, Seligo installs Internet technology as part of a £100,000 bookings upgrade.
- AITO launches a members’ website, developed by Comtec.
- Yahoo! launches a UK hotel and bed-and-breakfast reservation service. At first, rooms can only be booked through a third party, but 1,200 will be bookable online by the end of April. A total of 31,000 properties are listed.
- Worldspan launches an Internet booking product for agents called Dates and Destinations, allowing real-time bookings. Tailor-made and long-haul flight specialist The Travel Bug tests the system.
- Amadeus announces it is working on Project Vista, to create a front-office system that will link the GDS to the Internet. It will do away with traditional GDS codes and speed up and simplify the booking process.
- Brent Hoberman and Martha Lane-Fox launch online travel agent Lastminute.com.
- Iglu.com is launched.
- Online auction house Quixell launches Europe’s first interactive website allowing people to buy and sell travel products on the Internet.
- Expedia launches in the UK.
Click here for The Influential Ten – the pioneers and innovators in online travel from 1996 to 2005.
Other notable events in 1998