When it comes to reserving flights, hotel rooms and rented cars for holidaymakers, the online-travel market looks quite mature in many rich countries. Phocuswright, the Travel Market Research company, reckons that online booking now accounts for 43% of total travel sales in America and 45% in Europe. Much of the rest is accounted for by business trips handled by specialist corporate-travel agents such as Carlson Wagonlit, scope for the OTAs’ market to grow seems limited.
To stay ahead, the OTAs will have to follow their customers as they switch from desktop computers to smartphones and tablets. By 2017 over 30% of online travel bookings will be made on mobile devices according to Euromonitor. This will be the result of OTA’s making their apps more appealing by, for example, adding location services that help travellers find the nearest hotels and restaurants. But the shift is also occurring because the way people plan trips is changing. It generally takes a family more than three weeks to book a holiday, from deciding to travel to clicking the “pay now” button, in which time they may visit seven websites, says Faisal Galaria, from Alvarez & Marsal. In the near future, travellers are likely to become more impetuous, he says, and smartphones appeal to those making last-minute bookings.