A new problem for OTAs: Airline websites are outselling them in the US
For the first time, US fliers say they typically use airline websites to book airplane tickets more than they use online travel agencies (OTAs), according to PhoCusWright, a travel consultancy.
The survey found that 36% of travelers used a supplier website to book tickets, compared with 33% who used an OTA. By contrast, OTAs used to have a four-point percentage lead.
This shift in behavior marks an epic change not only from 2008-2011 but also from consumers’ longstanding tendency to value price, an array of choices, and convenience over brand loyalty (or even interest in a brand)….
Supplier websites gained an amazing five percentage points among travelers aged 18-44, to get a third of all their business.
PhoCusWright suspects that OTAs have been too focused on building out their hotel offerings, thus allowing airlines to gain a competitive edge when it comes to designing desktop and mobile experiences that better appeal to younger people.
The news is a victory for airlines who have been in a multi-year effort to direct passengers to make bookings direct through their website, aiming to avoid the commissions and fees of global distribution systems (GDSs).
Southwest has led the effort at marketing its own website, but other major airlines have picked up their pace in recent years, with Delta redesigning its site and apps in November and American doing a re-launch in February.
Relatedly, metasearch sites such as Kayak, Skyscanner, DoHop and Fly.com, claimed 11% of the booking share last year, and many of those metasearch transactions also resulted in direct-to-supplier conversions.
PhoCusWright’s U.S. Consumer Travel Report, Fifth Edition, is based on an online survey in late January that asked consumers to recall the websites they’ve used in the past year, which is the next best thing to actual industry-wide sales data, which isn’t available.
“US traveler” is defined as someone who has played an active role in planning at least one overnight trip in the past year, and the 2,520 respondents who qualified by this metric were projected by analysts to represent a demographically representative picture of the US population with Internet access.
By using a consistent methodology over time, PhoCusWright says it can produce the most reliable picture of general trends in consumer behavior.
Sean O’Neill is a New Jersey-based reporter for Tnooz. He is also a daily contributor of consumer news to LonelyPlanet.com.
He used to work for BBC Travel, BudgetTravel.com, and Kiplinger's, and used to live in London, New York City, and Washington, DC.