The internet is now the most popular method of booking business travel, according to new research. Significant changes in company policies have occurred in a very short period since the advent of online low-budget airline competition, and the increased availability and ease of finding cheaper flights and discounted hotel bookings via the internet has seen the role of the business travel agent greatly reduced.

The statistics show that companies appear to be introducing ever more efficient travel booking procedures - with an increasing number of companies insisting that employees purchase travel online in order to be cost effective.

The survey reveals that company policy now dictates that one in three (28 per cent) professionals must use the internet to purchase business travel. This is a significant increase from the previous year's survey when just two per cent were required to book travel in this way.

The research from the ninth Barclaycard Business Travel Survey shows that over half of business travellers (53 per cent) have purchased business travel online during the past 12 months. Of these:

- 77 per cent have booked flights online - an increase of 11 per cent on 2003

- 73 per cent have booked hotel accommodation online

- 34 per cent have booked rail online

64 per cent of business travellers that have booked travel online citied convenience as the main reason for using this method. A further 16 per cent cited a need to manage travel costs and 11 per cent the reliability of the service. These characteristics present a strong challenge to Business Travel Agents (BTAs) who also build their offer on these attributes. Just one third (32 per cent) of respondents reported using BTAs for their travel needs.

Tim Carlier, Barclaycard Business Head of Issuing, said; “The use of Business Travel Agents decreased slightly in 2004 in line with the shift towards online booking. Booking on the internet often has good management information detailing all areas of spend and can provide cheaper alternatives at the click of a mouse.

“However, BTAs provide added value to customers and there are clear advantages of having a travel expert rather than a computer serving customers' travel needs. The leisure, catering and health industries are least likely to use BTAs at present, according to the survey, and are potential areas where BTAs could win additional business.”