The share of Americans who book via offline sources such as travel agents and direct calls to suppliers is holding steady after years of decline, as people spend more on complex trips and seek more detailed consultation in advance of their trips, according to a recent report released by Phocuswright.

The percentage of American travelers who book exclusively online plateaued last year at 39% after jumping in 2012 from 32%, according to Phocuswright’s annual U.S. Consumer Travel Report. The figure is consistent with a Phocuswright report last November, which estimated that online bookings this year will have plateaued at 45% of the $347 billion that Americans will spend on travel this year.

(Phocuswright is owned by Travel Weekly’s parent, Northstar Travel Media.)

The news may be doubly good for travel agents, as the U.S. Consumer Travel Report estimates that the number of American adults who traveled last year for leisure surged 30% from 2009’s recession-era lows, to 140 million. Last year, two-thirds of U.S. adults took a trip at least 75 miles from home that involved either a flight or paid lodging, up from 61% in 2012.

And many of those travelers are taking more complex trips. The average U.S. household spent $3,441 on travel last year, up 3.9% from 2013 and marking a 27% surge from 2009. The percentages of traveling Americans who took both dynamic and prepackaged travel tours are on the rise.

“Exclusive online booking did stop growing for the first time in a few years,” said Marcello Gasdia, Phocuswright’s director of consumer research and one of the report’s authors. “It’s only natural to see this start to happen, as the migration from offline to online is really just about over.”

Such trends suggest a zero-sum game that has OTAs and travel suppliers alike battling, sometimes contentiously, for market share.

Expedia’s pending acquisition of Orbitz Worldwide has drawn fire from the American Hotels & Lodging Association for what the group asserts could result in higher distribution costs and reduced competition. Meanwhile, a recent ad campaign from Marriott International touting the benefits of direct booking has been criticized by ASTA. (Marriott agreed to pull one of the ads.)

Demographic shifts suggest that the trend away from online-exclusive bookings is likely to continue. That’s because travelers under 45 years old are about 70% more likely to purchase travel packages than their older counterparts, hinting further at more offline travel consultation.

“Younger travelers are extremely likely to travel abroad, so they are generally more likely to be in the market for a hotel and flight together,” Gasdia said. “Mix that in with some price sensitivity and you have the perfect demo for packaged travel.”

For the survey, Phocuswright worked with Global Market Insite to poll 5,110 consumers in February.


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