The trend for booking travel and holidays online continues to rise. The major travel groups are reporting double-digit growth figures in passenger numbers. Expedia is now the fifth largest Air Travel Organiser's Licence (ATOL) holder with a 36% growth in sales. Expedia, Freedom Flights and Flightbookers say that passenger sales will rise by 19%, 84% and 188% respectively. ATOL-protected bookings by major online operators, says, also show a 60% rise in online passenger sales.

A further improvement of 50% (1.53 million in 2006) is anticipated, although 32% less air travellers are covered by the ATOL scheme. Even so the market for the scheme’s protected holidays rose by 4%, equating to sales of £14 billion. In fact a total of 27.3 million passengers bought such vacations and flights in the year leading up to September 2005. There are also 1,100 travel agents and small tour operators who have managed to obtain Small Business ATOLs of a total of 2,440 businesses holding an ATOL licence.

In the USA, a survey by Accenture of 550 business travellers shows that 75% of businesses make their travel bookings online. The trend here is again going upwards with only 22% of the respondents calling an agent to organise their travel requirements and bookings. In contrast during 2003 around 36% preferred the telephone to the Internet. The vast majority, 87%, of business travellers are also using airport kiosks to check in due to its convenience.

Overall, in both the consumer and business travel markets, there is a big push to book directly with airlines and hotels at the expense of the online agents. There is also a shift back to the major airlines from the low-cost carriers. TravelMole quotes an anonymous spokesperson who says:

“Major network carriers and hotel companies should be keenly aware that aspects beyond price, such as convenient schedules, are deciding factors for many business travellers…service and convenience - from the website to the aisle seat, to the hotel room – remain the top concerns for travellers”.

Furthermore, since 1999 travel and holiday reservations through travel agents have remained static according to a report by Mintel. More and more holidays, which is also suggested by US market figures, are being booked independently. In another TravelMole article entitled, ‘The Internet offers compelling advantages over agents’, the research company’s head of research, Paul Rickard, comments:

“For an increasing number of travellers, being in control of creating their own itineraries and do their own booking creates a compelling advantage over the services of the travel agent. Indeed, today, some 34% of adults like to travel independently.”

Around 18% of those surveyed want to get off the beaten track, and some are even worried by the impact of mass tourism on the environment and local communities. There are a number of factors that have stimulated the rate of growth in the industry. The Internet is playing a major role in this, particularly as more and more of us are able to access the web from home and therefore book our holidays online. Most of us, Rickard believes, are better off and this has led to more people taking more holidays and ever more independently from the major tour operators and travel agency outlets.

So, like with every business, if you want to win your company needs to provide the best quality service, a high level of flexibility, with the most convenience for the business or even leisure traveller, and at the right price. With the increase in online sales it also important to have a website that provides the right level of usability and accessibility to information, which makes booking online easy and intuitive.