Special report: Impact of social media ‘exaggerated’

A major study of online consumer behaviour and travel buying in Germany suggests the impact of social media on travel decision making has been exaggerated and remains way below the impact of traditional media.

The study by leading online marketers at German group Agof suggests internet consumers remain mostly interested in traditional media and technology providers.

The findings, released at the recent German trade show ITB, appear to fit the conclusions of an academic report to be published next month at the World Tourism Forum in Lucerne. This concludes social media in travel “is less important than so far believed”.

Agof is a group of 19 German marketing agencies and companies with a major digital presence. Its study identified the number of German users online between September and November last year and found 88% (51 million) engaged with Agof members.

Of these, 69% showed interest in travel and tourism products: 51% in flights, 47% in a holiday or last-minute trip, 38% in hotels (business and leisure) and 5.5% in car hire. Just over half (54%) made an online travel purchase, although this included 12 million-plus rail tickets (mainly domestic).

Agof academy manager Marion Beckers said: “Every second user booked a travel component and 81% used the internet for information about travel.”

However, travel booking did not appear to correlate with social-media use – although the survey excluded users who accessed the internet solely via Facebook over the period.

It found 6.7 million users visited TripAdvisor – which includes social-media elements – review site HolidayCheck or online travel agent Opodo. Among these users, the most-visited other sites were eBay (70%), web provider T-online (65%), online advice site Gutefrage (55%), technology portal Computer Bild (43%) and web provider Web.de (41%). No social-media sites featured in the top results.

Similarly, Agof found 10.8 million smartphone users “very interested” in travel. Yet the most-visited mobile-enabled sites were Gutefrage (23%), newspapers Bild (20%) and Die Welt (10%), and news magazines Der Spiegel (14.5%) and Focus (11%).

Also at ITB, market analyst IPK International released figures suggesting 54% of travel bookers worldwide and 64% in western Europe book online – including domestic rail trips – but just 7% use social media in “travel planning”.

IPK chief executive Rolf Freitag said: “This is a small fraction when 48% of consumers use social media.”

The World Tourism Forum study, conducted by researchers at the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences, surveyed 1,000 online travel bookers in the UK, Germany and US, asking: “How much value should companies place on a social-media presence?”

UK users rated “a clearly structured website” the top priority, followed by “suitable travel dates”, and did not rate social media important. German online bookers had the same two priorities. US bookers regarded a travel firm’s reputation as most important.

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