hile standing in line at Walt Disney World
a few weeks back, I struck up a conversation with a 20-something
couple from Boston. After chatting for a few minutes -- and
informing them that I worked for a travel trade publication -- they
proudly declared that they had booked their entire trip -- air,
hotel, car and Disney Park Hopper passes -- online.
"We never even thought about going to a travel agent," the woman
said. "It was the first time we've ever done that. And we got a
Certainly, a couple booking a weeklong vacation on the Web
doesn't surprise me. I know plenty of people who book their own
travel. It was the second part of her statement that made me stop
Did they really get a better deal than if they had gone to a
travel agent? Is it true that the Internet has become the promised
land of milk and money saved?
It's all a matter of perception, according to Peter Yesawich,
managing partner of Yesawich Pepperdine Brown & Russell
(YPB&R). Whether it's true or not that prices are better on the
Web doesn't matter. The fact is, consumers think it's true.
Yesawich, speaking in New York last week at the Future of
Travel, a forum presented by the Society of American Travel
Writers, Northeast Chapter and Millennium Hotels and Resorts, the
Americas, said the Web's attraction to consumers is all about
control. "It's all about getting a better deal than the guy next to
you," he said. "And the Web has become the place to find great
Yesawich has the research to back it up. According to
YPB&R's 2004 National Travel Monitor, 58% of consumers believed
the Web was the best place to get a great deal last year. In 2002,
that number was 38%. That's the biggest jump in the 12 years
YPB&R's been doing the National Travel Monitor.
Conversely, just 20% thought an agent was the way to go to get
the best deal. That number was 29% in 2002. And this trend shows no
signs of letting up, Yesawich said.
Consumers are being bombarded with the message that the Web's
the place to be. If you didn't book online, you didn't get a good
deal. And that's what's driving people to the Web in record
YPB&R reports that 63% of all consumers will use the Web to
book a vacation in 2004. That number is up from 53% last year.
Meanwhile, 45% (vs. 32% in 2003) said they will book online this
year. And of those bookers, two-thirds said they trust their own
instincts more than a travel professional.
It's not surprising then, that in 2003, YPB&R found that
only 8% of consumers used a travel agent exclusively when booking
travel. More than half said they'd gone the Web-only route -- just
like my new Boston friends.
By the way, it turns out when the couple landed in Orlando,
there was no rental car waiting for them. No big deal, they said, a
minor glitch. Maybe so, but still something to think about in the
land of milk and money saved.