Online travel companies go big on Cyber Monday

By Michelle Baran
In an industrywide grab for a bigger piece of the Cyber Monday buying frenzy, travel companies threw more deals into the online market this year, and consumers responded in kind.

“We definitely saw more [promotions] this year,” said Andrew Young of Travelzoo’s U.S. website, which publishes travel deals. “Every year you’re seeing more folks in the travel space play in this realm. ... They’re trying to follow the crowd in that respect and go where the people are spending their money.”

Young said the deals started on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, and lasted through last week, a period now referred to as Cyber Week.

While some offers were for more immediate travel, others were for travel as late as early to mid-2013.

Young said traffic to Travelzoo was up by between 15% and 20% on Cyber Monday compared with an average Monday.

Hotels.com said it doubled its performance compared with last year during the Thanksgiving promotion period in terms of overall click-throughs and engagements.

Hotels.com’s director of public relations, Taylor Cole, said hotels put more aggressive deals into the market this year.

Hotels.com had a Thanksgiving sale that ran the entire month of November up through Thanksgiving, with hotel rates discounted between 30% and 60%. A four-day promotion from Black Friday through Cyber Monday offered rates at 50% to 60% below regular rates.

“This is a last-minute push for hoteliers to finish the year strong,” Cole said, noting that the promotions and subsequent sales would help hotels boost their Q4 and Q1 performance.

Expedia also did a Black Friday promotion, which started on Nov. 20 and ran through Nov. 26. Each day, Expedia posted discounted, short-term deals on hotel rooms that were discounted as much as 55%.

Most of the major online travel agencies, including Travelocity and Orbitz, offered discounts and other deals, as did numerous other travel companies and suppliers, including tour operators, airlines and Amtrak.

Funjet, for example, put four deals into the market for agents to pass on to their clients.

The company reported that while the number of deals were fewer than last year, they were more focused, and the four properties that Funjet discounted saw a cumulative 500% increase in bookings during the Black Friday-through-Cyber Monday period compared with the same period last year.

Abercrombie & Kent, which also held a Cyber Week sale, reported, “We typically get many bookings from agents on behalf of their clients during these sales.”

For many travel companies, November is a slow booking period, so the promotions can help stimulate either last-minute holiday bookings or early bookings for 2013 travel.

It’s no surprise that travel companies are trying to get in on the shopping frenzy. This Cyber Monday was the biggest ever, with online sales growing 30.3% over the same period last year, according to a report released by IBM.

The Web tracking company ComScore estimated that total online sales hit $1.5 billion on Cyber Monday alone.

Of course, Black Friday/Cyber Monday is no longer considered a period for holiday gift buying only. Consumers shopping for themselves on Cyber Monday accounted for 54% of all online purchases, according to the consumer research firm NPD Group.

While IBM reported that department stores, health and beauty, home goods and apparel saw the biggest sales on Cyber Monday, travel companies say that shoppers are increasingly clicking on travel deals too, either for holiday travel or for great prices on spring getaways.

The migration toward digital shopping has given travel a greater voice in the retail hysteria once reserved for online retail giants and brick-and-mortar stores. Online sales this Cyber Monday were 36% greater than last year’s Black Friday retail sales, according to IBM.

And that trend has been amplified by mobile, with more than 18% of consumers using a mobile device to visit a shopping site this Cyber Monday, an increase of more than 70% over 2011, according to IBM.

Mobile sales clocked in close to 13% of total online sales Nov. 26, an increase of more than 96% compared with 2011.

PayPal, the online payment system, reported that the volume of its mobile transactions as of 2 p.m. Eastern on Cyber Monday almost tripled mobile volume for same period in 2011.

“If you were traveling over the holidays, you probably had a fair amount of time to check apps while you were standing in line,” said Travelzoo’s Young, noting that deal browsing on mobile devices, which can take place while waiting in line for flights or at the store, serves the travel space well.

Cole, too, attributed Hotels.com’s huge jump in sales on Cyber Monday in large part to mobile.

“More and more travelers are booking even holiday travel through a mobile device,” she said.

But ultimately, she said, it was a combination of strong deals across multiple platforms that drew the crowds. Hotels.com’s deals were advertised online, via email and, increasingly, through social media.

“It’s about reaching people where they are shopping, whether that’s through email, websites, apps or social media,” Young said. “More and more travel companies, entertainment companies and restaurants are looking to do that.”

Follow Michelle Baran on Twitter @mbtravelweekly. 
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