Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Australia searches illustrate buoyancy in travel

Heather Hopkins at Hitwise UK writes:

In one of the busiest months for holiday makers, the travel industry was hit hard by an averted terrorist plot, stories and images of queues at the major airports, and now threats of a strike at Stansted this coming bank holiday weekend. [Since cancelled - Ed]

We prepared a brief analysis of the impact of these events on consumer behaviour online to help our customers understand the impact on the industry and to benchmark the impact on their own.

Overall our analysis reveals that fewer visits are going to travel websites, with the exception of websites for airlines, which consumers are likely contacting for updated travel information. The analysis also reveals that long-term travel plans, such as plans to visit Australia for the Ashes Tour, do not appear to be impacted.

Last week I posted on the immediate aftermath and so will focus today on the results in the week after the attacks.

The following chart illustrates the share of all UK internet searches for the ten most searched-for destinations (measured as searches that include the keywords "flights to") in the past four weeks.

Whilst searches for many popular destinations declined last week, searches for "flights to australia", "flights to tenerife", and "flights to turkey" all increased. Searches for "flights to Australia" were no doubt buoyed by the cricket matches over the weekend and anticipation of the Ashes tour.

New York was hard hit, with searches for "flights to new york" moving from position 5 among the most searched-for flight destinations to position 10. Searches for "flights to new york" also experienced the largest week-on-week decline in share of searches, down 56% week-on-week and 4% year-on-year.

Visits to travel websites declined last week but it is important for travel companies to be able to benchmark their own decline against the industry to understand if they are fairing better or worse - or the same - as competitors.

The following figures provide the percentage change in market share of visits to travel category websites comparing the week ending 5th August 2006 with the week ending 19th August 2006.

Since visits increased to travel websites in the immediate aftermath of the security alert, the comparison is done to the week before to provide a more accurate measure of change.

Travel – agencies: -17%

Travel – destinations & accommodation: -10%

Travel – transport: +9%

Aviation – commercial airlines: +19%

The top 10 sites in the travel agencies and destinations & accommodation categories all experienced a decline in market share last week compared with two weeks prior. Transport site visits varied, with some experiencing growth and others declines.

Thomson Fly, BMI Baby and Flybe all saw their market share of visits decline over the past two weeks, by 10%, 5% and 14% respectively.

British Airways, RyanAir and BAA all saw the highest percentage growth among the top ten, at 17%, 13%, and 203% respectively.

The top 10 sites in each of the travel categories for the most part remained unchanged last week. The only notable exception was that British Airways took the #2 ranking among commercial airlines, overtaking RyanAir by a margin of less than 1% market share of visits.

Heather Hopkins, vice president for research at Hitwise UK

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