Approximately, 82% of all travel bookings in 2018 were made online via a mobile app or website (online travel agency), devoid of any human interaction. If you have ever travelled, you've probably come across the term 'online travel agency' or 'OTA' before. As the name suggests, an online travel agency is a website that allows consumers to browse through and book travel services, including hotels, flights, cars, tours, activities and more.
Online travel agencies have been thriving lately, especially as the world recovers from the dreaded COVID restrictions. People are desperate to go on holiday and experience exciting new adventures, yet they demand convenience. With online travel agencies, you can book your whole trip from the comfort of your home! And it seems this convenience has been around for quite some time now. The first online travel agency was created in 1996 by Sabre called 'Travelocity'. However, the concept of travel agencies was discovered long before.
Travel agencies: the origins
Before the worldwide web re-shaped the dynamic of travel in the early 2000s, customers would venture to travel agencies to book their travel plans. Traditional travel agencies are older than you may think, and they date back to the mid-1700s when Cox & Kings was established to be agents for British military personal travelling between England and the then colony of India.
Travel for pleasure was introduced around the 1900s, and travel companies such as Thomas Cook established one-day rail tours. However, the introduction of cheap air travel allowed people to REALLY travel. Travel agencies popped up from place to place to cater to people's hunger for vacations and recesses.
Thus, potential vacationers began to visit the brick and mortar high street stores. They would meet with a travel agent who would construct a bespoke itinerary or book them into a package holiday based on a customers budget and travel preference. This personalised service ensured that customers were met with a high level of customer care and information before setting off on their travels.
Although traditional travel agencies still exist, consumer behaviour has evolved. Travellers and vacationers demand convenience above everything else, and in 1996, Travelocity — the first online travel agency — was created by Sabre. It became the very first website that offered ticket purchasing online.
Do travellers opt for an online travel agency as opposed to an offline one?
Since the 2000s, the hotel and airline industries have taken full advantage of online purchasing and booking. The current market percentage of all online sales in the hotel and airline industries made from 2000-2021 is 80% and 70%, respectively. Analyzing the results, it is clear that a significantly large chunk of travellers prefer to book their hotels and purchase airfares online rather than utilizing traditional travel agencies.
Opportunities with an online travel agency
As for the tours and activities industry, many companies still haven't realized the amazing advantages of going online. The pandemic has propelled everything online from shopping to eating, remote working and even consultations. Now, there are huge opportunities for established and newly formed OTAs to take advantage of leisure markets outside of traditional tourists. In contemporary times, domestics travellers, weekend visitors, and corporate clients make up an emerging trend of people looking to avail things to do that can be booked online.
Therefore, going online with your travel agency is probably in your best interests.
Not only will you attract more travellers and customers since your business will remain open 24/7, but you'll also be able to offer a lot more services. Here are some of the reasons why opting for an online travel agency would be ideal:
- Customers can compare fares, airline schedules, and prices of accommodation very quickly and easily.
Fares, airline schedules, accommodation prices and tour booking all come hand in hand. Before embarking on your trip, customers want to make sure their trip is organized, aligned and created with the best offers available.
OTAs also offer a variety of fares and prices, and travellers can pick and choose according to their budgets. Many online travel agencies have search filters and comparison tools to help travellers and vacationers narrow down and target what they're looking for, making them extremely convenient.
- Option to check the review system
Review systems are crucial for any business. In an OTA's review section, previous users leave written reviews and ratings for future customers. Typically, the option to write a review is available only after a user has experienced a service, so they are reliable. More positive reviews, more bookings!
On the other hand, offline or traditional travel agencies don't have the option to do so, which is a major disadvantage. As of 2021, nearly nine out of ten consumers read reviews before making a purchase.
- Flexible cancellation
Online travel agencies usually come with a cancellation policy that hotels, airlines, and tour and activities providers must adhere to. Typically, upon booking, the customer receives a confirmation email and information on how to cancel their booking.
We've all had to cancel our purchases or bookings online now and then. Similarly, in an OTA, the process is user-friendly and hassle-free, and money is refunded to the customer instantly.
- one account — many travel services/needs
Once travellers, tourists, or vacationers have registered themselves on an online travel agency, the system saves their information. If they wish to book accommodation, tours and activities or purchase airfare, the OTA automatically enters in the majority of your information, saving you heaps of time. The OTA'S intuitive makes it super-easy to book and purchase different services.
- internationally adaptable
With an OTA, you can cater to a variety of customers - not only English-speaking ones. Online travel agencies usually come with features like language options and currencies to adapt to the user's location.
With an offline or traditional travel agency, this would be very hard to accomplish. Additionally, most agencies would only receive customers from a specific region, drastically limiting sales.
Online travel agencies are here to stay. As the world progresses technologically every day, we have to make sure our businesses evolve and improve in the same ways. Considering a traditional/offline travel agency in this digital era is a costly mistake. With online travel agencies, you can automate most of the tedious manual tasks and reach a wider variety of customers, ultimately increasing your sales and expanding your business.