Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Confusing article about Online vs High Street #94

TheLondonPaper, a free newspaper in the capital which more often than not spends most of its time on the seats of tube trains, produced an article today titled: When internet booking isn't the only way to fly.

The piece is not available online - only on a digital edition here - but it is loosely an advice piece about the merits of visiting a travel agent rather than booking online.

It follows a month or so after the Holiday Which? magazine produced a similar investigation, arguing that High Street travel agents are nowhere near being able to match the prices of the online operators.

Today's piece in TheLondonPaper has good intentions, providing readers with a breakdown of various destinations and fares for different booking options (package, hotel-only, flight-only).

But, typically, it compartmentalises 'traditional' companies such as Thomas Cook and Kuoni against online players Expedia or Lastminute.com.

The conclusions:

In three of the five regions considered, a travel agent was found to provide the overall cheapest option.

And here are some, erm, insightful soundbites:

"We checked web reservations for flights and noticed that the prices were often surprisingly high and involved inconvenient stop-offs."

"We found that booking a last-minute flight online is almost always more expensive than via a travel agent."

"We also found that booking accommodation directly with a hotel will almost always be cheaper than on the net."

What the article does not say is whether the price for the travel agent products were cheaper or more expensive on any of their own online channels, such as Thomascook.com, FirstChoice.co.uk or Kuoni.co.uk.

The survey also only used Expedia and Lastminute, rather than any travel or meta search engines, such as Sidestep, AustraliaTravelMarket, et al.

Interestingly the two areas that scored well for the online travel agents were both in the long-haul market, Australia and Thailand.

The problem with so-called investigations into the online and traditional routes to buying travel is that the methodology is always going to be difficult simply because of the size of the market and the variables associated with products.

In other words: it is almost impossible - and ridiculous to attempt - to summarise the benefits of one booking method over another.

Kevin May, editor, Travolution

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