After two whole years of travel restrictions and ever-changing entry requirements, 2023 finally sees a light at the end of the tunnel which our online travel booking statistics below prove. As the world gradually opens back up, 2024 is set to be the ultimate year of travel as the wanderlust finally dig out their suitcases and hop on flights to explore the world. Following a prolonged hiatus, travel is officially back on the table and the travel market exploded in 2023 with easing restrictions and a thirst to make up for lost time sending everyone into a travel buzz.
How Has Travel Booking Changed in the UK?
A major element of travel that has changed in recent years is the way that we book our holidays. The internet has been great for the travel industry with the percentage of travellers making online booking increasing year on year. This increase in online travel bookings has skyrocketed in the past two years as we have relied on the internet more and more following the long closures on our high streets. This has led to a collapse in high street travel agents and now, many of the most popular travel companies are solely based online. Online travel booking is easy with every piece of information readily available at your fingertips without the back and forth communication with an agent. Plus, with the addition of live chat and messaging services, any queries can be answered quickly and conveniently.
In a trillion-dollar industry, travel is one of the biggest expenditures that people will make in a year and customers will ensure that they have thoroughly done their research before taking the plunge to book. According the most recent ABTA Holiday Habits Report1, the average UK customer spends a minimum of 10 hours shopping for the right holiday. With all the time spent online, holidays are more frequently researched via an app or mobile site than through a desktop website. The average person has their phone with them almost every second of the day so it is easier than ever to research travel plans on the go. However, in 2023, it is expected that value will be placed back on the traditional travel agent. Studies by ABTA found travellers are now 30% more likely to book with a travel agent than pre-pandemic2.
How Many People Book Online vs. Traditional Travel Agencies?
The traditional travel booking method of visiting an in-person travel agent is slowly dwindling. Almost 80% of all UK travel bookings are now made online3. With the collapse of UK travel agent Thomas Cook in 2019, it is evident that the traditional high street method of travel booking is on a decline with younger generations choosing to book not only online but also through third party and comparison websites.
Whilst traditional travel agencies have a solid customer base of loyal baby boomers and Gen X, younger generations automatically divert to booking online. However, high street travel agencies have seen a surge in Millennial bookings in recent years. Millennials value time saving and prefer booking bespoke experiences with 34% of Millennials happy to book their travel plans with a traditional travel agent. Travel agents who specialise in a niche are doing exceptionally well with Millennial customers.
Of the selection of UK citizens who prefer to book via a high street travel agent, 32% believe it is a more trustworthy service than online booking. Travel agencies can also save customers an average of 4 hours of planning time per trip.
However, although travel agencies can save travellers time and have a reputation, the majority of the population now choose to book online. A survey carried in 2020 outlined that the UK population prefers to book online for a number of reasons with 46% believing it is a cheaper option and 28% liking to compare prices and packages4. Convenience also plays a major role in online booking as you can plan and book travel experiences anywhere and at any time.
The emergence of chatbots and live chat has also led to an increase in online bookings and this technology has a promising future in the tourism industry. These services offer the best of both worlds providing the flexibility to make your own travel plans whilst also having assistance available if needed. With many travel companies offering 24/7 online services, any communication can be done from the convenience of your own home at a time that suits you, the customer. In 2019, 16% of online UK bookings used the online chat or messenger service when booking their trip5.
When it comes to booking domestic travel, ABTA’s 2019 research discovered that UK travellers are more likely to book online for UK holidays than abroad holidays5. Only 20% of consumers said they would book a UK holiday with a traditional travel agency whilst 39% said they would book an abroad holiday. Presumably, this confidence in booking UK holidays is due to the familiarity with people preferring expert guidance when travelling abroad. Customers booking domestic trips across the UK, including the Channel Islands and Jersey, are comfortable with the local language, culture and currency making online booking an easy option.
What is the Online Travel Industry Worth?
Travel and tourism is one of the largest industries in the world worth over $1.2 trillion a year. With the online portion of the industry constantly expanding, the online travel industry alone currently makes up 63% of the global travel industry but is constantly rising6. Statistics have shown a 10.4% increase in online bookings each year since 2018. Following a huge dip in the industry due to Covid-19 travel restrictions, it is estimated that the travel industry lost over $935 billion dollars.
The UK travel industry alone is worth a phenomenal $106 billion and as the fastest growing industry in the UK, travel is expected to increase to a value of $257 billion by 20257. Outside of London, Jersey is amongst the most popular UK destinations for domestic tourism. The last recorded statistics for Jersey alone are from 2019 when the island’s tourism was worth just shy of $345 million.
How are Customers Booking Travel Online?
Mobile is now the dominant way that we connect, communicate and access information. On a daily basis, the percentage of desktop usage drops in favour of smart devices such as tablets and mobile phones. Apps and simpler mobile websites are now more commonly used than traditional desktop websites. We have access to the internet at all times with a connected device in the palm of our hands. We no longer need to wait for a reliable internet connection as 99% of the UK has coverage. We no longer need to wait until we return to our laptop or computer because everything we need is in a handheld device that we take everywhere with us. This evolution of both the internet and digital devices has changed the way the population conducts many aspects of life, including the way we book travel. However, current trends change frequently and it is paramount that the travel industry adapts quickly in response.
Currently, 70% of online travel bookers carry out their research and holiday browsing through mobile websites and apps. However, when it comes to actually making the booking, they move across to a desktop. The reason for this is often due to the format and clarity when making mobile bookings. This switch in device is inconvenient for the customer and therefore, well designed apps and mobile websites are key in the online travel industry. Customers also prefer a larger screen when making big purchases and enjoy the ease of navigation on a desktop. In particular, extensive forms plus terms and conditions are easier to read and complete on a larger device. Of all online travel bookings, 64% are still carried out on desktop8.
Those who do book on a mobile device prefer to book via an app rather than a mobile website due to speed, functionality and the option to receive notifications. However, statistics also demonstrate that the average customer is not loyal to apps with approximately 50% of users deleting a travel app within a month of download. Typically, travel related apps have one primary function and once this has been fulfilled, the app is no longer required.
Online travel carts have the highest checkout abandonment of any online industry. Mobile conversion rates are currently only 0.7% whilst desktop conversion rates are much higher at 2.4%. However, it is likely that many customers booking by desktop have already researched by mobile. When booking travel online, it is almost an even split with people trusting third party and comparison websites just as much as heading direct to the provider. 47% of consumers stated they would book a UK holiday with a third party or comparison website rather than booking with the provider. These statistics for domestic holiday bookings have remained steady for several years.
What are the Trends in Booking Travel Online?
Digital trends are constantly changing and evolving with the tourism landscape for 2024 looking drastically different from previous years.
Popular Online Booking Times
Monitored customer booking activity has shown that the period of Sunday to Monday is the most popular time for travel bookings9. Reports have outlined many reasons for this including social conversations and the free time over the weekend to browse for holidays. TrekkSoft identified Monday as the top day for online bookings whilst Saturday’s, when people are busy, typically receive the least bookings10.
With fluctuating prices, there is no guarantee that a specific day or time is going to bring up the best deal, however, based on booking data, there are some patterns that emerge. Based on a report by SkyScanner in February 202111, prices typically go through a cycle and tend to be cheapest earlier in the week. In a Sunday to Saturday week, Thursday has proven to be the worst day to book as prices are increased to recuperate losses from cheaper offerings in the first few days of the week. This cycle is based on consumer booking activity and travel prices fluctuate on a supply and demand basis. The prices rise and fall automatically through computer software and intellectual algorithms that monitor bookings in real time and adjust prices accordingly based on specific data. This applies to flights, package holidays and hotels that have a variable rate.
With the flexibility and creativity of the online world, 90% of travellers now expect a tailored experience when booking their travel. Websites and agencies that allow customers to customise and personalise their bookings leads to enhanced customer satisfaction. Online bookings provide consumers with the ability to easily compare elements, chop and change dates and switch travel plans with zero fuss.
Catch up Travel
ABTA has identified that 2022 is the year of the ‘catch-up consumer’ with a large percentage of travellers making up for lost time and trips during the pandemic12. 49% of customers say that following the Covid-19 related travel restrictions, travel is more important to them than ever. In 2024, travellers are making up lost time and enjoying the freedom that for a period of time was out of our reach. Whilst the last two years are just a tiny snippet in the global history of the world, in our lifetime, this period has been a dramatic and life-changing event. Many feel that time and experiences have been stolen from us as unexplored destinations and exciting trips slipped through our fingers at the start of 2020.
The desire to travel together for reconnection has seen a surge in 2023. Many online travel retailers and booking platforms have seen a significant rise in large group bookings, particularly for multi-generational families. Large group travel is significantly more convenient and easy to organise if booked domestically. easyJet Holidays discovered that 25% of their UK customers were prioritising travelling with extended family and friends to make up for lost time. For that reason, groups are preferring to book UK city breaks, countryside escapes and beach holidays. Alex Dolan of Dolan Hotels (Golden Sands Hotel, Hotel Cristina and Sommerville Hotel), which owns several of Jersey’s most popular hotels, confirmed they are receiving an increased number of group bookings with groups of UK and German guests making up a large percentage of existing bookings13.
How has Social Media Affected Travel?
Travel decisions are now largely influenced by social media in the modern day. Social media has put the world at the palm of our hand allowing us to see what every destination has to offer and where everyone else is travelling. The emergence of influencers and even just following people we know in real life impacts travel decisions as we are exposed to a myriad of worldwide destinations. Particularly amongst Millennials and Gen Z, travel is now strongly influenced by social media. Travel is also often curated for posting on social media with Instagram in particular a new driving element of the travel industry. A survey conducted by Condor Ferries found that 90% of Gen Z confirmed that travel plans are influenced by social media14. With many people opting for staycations in the last two years, social media has witnessed the beauty of what the UK has to offer and showcased the incredible destinations we have on home turf.
How has Covid-19 Affected Travel?
As COVID-19 brought travel to a standstill, tourism was one of the biggest industries affected by the pandemic. The collapse of both domestic and international travel has been rebuilt and is fuelled by millions of travellers who have missed out on two years of travel. A survey carried out for the ABTA Travel in 2022 Report15 found that the desire for overseas travel is still strong with 61% of individuals surveyed planning to travel abroad in 2022.
However, whilst many are making up for lost time and jetting off to far-flung destinations abroad, there is a core group choosing to holiday closer to home and explore more of the UK. After two years of local travel and staycations, as a collective group, we have come to truly appreciate what we have on our own front doorstep. Travellers now value the staycation and the joy of domestic travel just as much as international travel. Instead of flying off to an exotic destinations, more and more British holidaymakers are opting instead to stay within the British Isles. Travellers are trading in Lake Como for the Lake District, Corfu in for Cornwall and the Canary Islands in for the Channel Islands. As a holiday and tourism destination, the Channel Islands are ever-growing in popularity with Jersey in particular having a moment.
The Surge in Jersey’s Popularity
Over the past decade, Jersey has seen a steady rise in the tourism industry with the annual visitors increasing year on year. The last tourism statistics are dated pre-pandemic with the year of 2019 welcoming over 770,000 visitors, a 6% increase on the previous year. This was largest number of visitors the island has seen since 200216. In 2020 and 2021, Jersey was unable to conduct the Exit Survey but this has resumed for 2022 and based on current booking information, a steep incline in tourism statistics and annual visitors is expected. Whilst the Exit Survey was temporarily postponed, annual arrivals were still monitored. From January to March 2022, Jersey saw a more than 2,000% increase in arrivals from 202117 demonstrating that visitors are now returning to the island as we are navigating our way out of the pandemic.
With many travellers still favouring a UK holiday, many are venturing to the Channel Islands with Jersey on the forefront of the archipelago’s tourism industry. Home to the best weather in the British Isles with the mildest climate and exceptional scenery, it is no surprise that Jersey is a popular destination for British holidaymakers. The island’s close proximity to the mainland is also a bonus with many flights from UK airports to Jersey averaging a journey time of less than an hour. Ferries to Jersey is also a major draw for British tourists allowing holidaymakers to travel with their own car, unlimited belongings and even four-legged friends. In addition, as a British Isle with no travel restrictions, travel to the Channel Islands is simple and straightforward for UK nationals.
The Jersey Evening Post reported that UK travellers are finding Jersey to be a safer, more convenient and more reliable option than European destinations18 with industry bosses expecting tourism numbers to ‘exceed pre-covid levels’.