Joseph Kornik.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 great deal."

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 to think.

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 deals."

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 numbers.

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.

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