I am old enough to remember the days before travel websites. To book a holiday you had the option of either walking into a travel agent on the high street (Thomas Cook, Thomson etc.) or contacting a hotel direct. Cruises were an exception, as you would contact P&O direct. Travel guide books, such as Lonely Planet (now a website) and local B&B guides would provide telephone numbers for hotels. This was about it. Today, you can book any holiday anywhere without leaving your sofa.
Travel deal websites have evolved rapidly in the last decade and today, most people book their holidays through a website rather than by using a travel operator or guidebook. This is a topic close to my heart, partly because of my background in geography, and partly because I was involved in the building and running of a new travel website, Share Your Holiday (dot com) about 8 years ago – it had huge potential but never got off the ground. TripAdviser has since swallowed that market with great success!
Here we take a look at the benefits of travel deal websites and discover which platforms are the most popular amongst tourists today.
Access to exclusive offers
Travel deal websites often advertise special offers that cannot be found elsewhere, and certainly not when accommodation and flights are searched for separately. It is normally easier to find cheaper deals during a destination’s ‘low season‘, when hotels with few bookings may decide to offer heavily discounted rates in an attempt to lure customers in.
Many people can opt to receive automatic e-mail notifications of special offers so they won’t even have to take the time to search for a deal, let alone book their transport and accommodation separately.
Top travel deal websites:
One of the most popular online travel retailers, lastminute.com gives people access to thousands of hotels and flights to dozens of countries across the world. The company’s target market is couples and families, and it is possible to find incredible bargains on flights, hotels and car hire services, as well as other services such as flight transfers and theatre shows. Lastminute.com also has some great destination guides where customers can get valuable insight on tourist attractions, top-rated places to eat out, and highly regarded accommodation venues.
If you want to find the cheapest flights for any date, just visit skyscanner.com and the website will give you all the cheapest prices from almost every airline. If you are travelling to multiple destinations, you can type in different departure and/or arrival destinations, and you can also see a breakdown of the prices being charged by other comparison websites for the same flights.
One of the most trusted booking websites, booking.com advertises tens of thousands of accommodation establishments, and you can easily tailor your search to your preferences (i.e. for a couple, family, solo traveller). It’s very easy to find out which hotels have the best customer reviews, what their official star ratings are, and whether the hotel charges the customer on the day of the booking or on the day of check-in/check-out. If you register for a free account on booking.com and you are a regular customer, you’ll even be able to access the company’s 10% booking genius discounts for thousands of hotels.
The world’s largest online travel community, TripAdvisor advertises many thousands of hotels, restaurants, and visitor attractions. In addition, it has a fantastic network of forums, where you can seek advice on how to plan your journey and get feedback from experienced travellers who have been to or have lived in the destinations on your itinerary. Compared to reading an advertisement or a travel article, this gives you a more objective and balanced view of a particular place or attraction.
Travel websites have become so popular that most high street travel agents have now closed down. Package holidays are also coming under threat as people can easily book their own fligths, hotel and transport on the Internet, saving a small fortune in commission fees. We expect to see more changes in the near future, as new travel apps start to dominate the scene.
Finding your flights, transfers and accommodation in one place is much less time consuming than searching for different services on multiple websites. Travel deal websites, such as Travel Zoo, can provide you with the cheapest and most convenient flight times on your behalf, and it is easy to tailor your accommodation to your preferences. Online booking allows you to travel almost immediately, leaving you to just book the other essentials such as packing, arranging travel insurance and immunizations, if you are travelling to areas where disease is still prevalent. It is possible to book a whole holiday, plus paperwork, in under 30 minutes – a far cry from the days of high street travel agents.
My final thoughts – this is great for the consumer. I will never forget the bad experience I had when I booked a holiday with Thomas Cook (on London Wall, now closed!) many years ago – they managed to book my fligths on the wrong day, and I had to pay a fee for them to correct the mistake! Although you can make mistakes when booking online, you do have much more control over the whole process.
TripAdvisor dominates travel in the UK today, it will be interesting to see how things develop over the next couple of years. However, there are many contenders – Hilton, Kayak. Xapa, Late Rooms, Expedia, ebookers and Hotels are all contributing massively to the online travel market.
Webologist’s prediction: The winner in the travel booking niche will manage to develop a perfect cross-platform app that allows you to read reviews and book holidays with ease via smartphones, tablets or wearable tech is going to quickly replace traditional websites, and includes a secure social media element. Share Your Holiday was going to do all of this, but it died young 🙁