Peak season for online travel is nearly here, What to expect?

November 26, 2007

One of the things I found really strange when I started in the travel industry a few years ago was where in the year the peak booking periods occur. I’d been used to working on e-commerce projects in industries which either had steady purchase patterns, peaks prior to christmas in retails or really pronounced peaks in B2B markets (renewals periods etc). Travel however peaks at two times of the year (as far as I can tell anyway) and is fairly steady the rest of the time.

It’s not the the fact that it peaks twice that I found strange, rather it’s when those peaks occur.

The first peak travel booking period I encountered was in July and August. This was mainly late bookings for the autumn and winter period and consisted of a lot of people looking for bargains and breaks to the sun. This struck me as an odd time to have a peak in bookings. It’s perfectly understandable for people to be booking such holidays at that time of year, a lot had just come back from holiday and were looking forward to the next and others are in the midst of the school holidays and wondering what to do with the kids during autumn half-term. I just didn’t expect the volumes that occured.

The second peak I encountered is the more pronounced one in January and February. Now this seemed really odd to me. Christmad just out the way, major expenditure has happened in nearly every household and yet here were consumers planning and purchasing holidays for next summer with price tags in the thousands. I can understand the winter blues effect but it still seems alien to me that this is the period which can see an online travel company make it through the year if bookings are succesful at this time.

So what to expect this year?

Economically it’s not looking so good this year. Consumer confidence has been dented by the current market instability and disposable cash is not going to be as readily available to some. This could result in some companies seeing less growth year-on-year than in previous peak seasons. This could work in the favour of tour operators who take deposit payments to secure bookings and allow consumers to pay the rest off in installments. The online travel agents will be the ones who feel the pinch (if indeed there is one) as they expect full payment up front for all bookings.

Traffic is well up though. Currently, traffic to online travel websites is up 15-20% year-on-year, that trend should continue into the peak months and could be more evidence of the continued shift to online booking channels in the travel marketplace. It’s also testament to the maturing of the online marketing activities of travel companies. I hope you’ve got your infrastructure sorted out or the rush of visitors to your sites could make them grind to a halt unless you’re prepared!

Bookings so far this year are also up with the industry as a whole seeing far more bookings going through on their websites. Again, this should continue into the peak months.

So all in all we should see a decent peak period again this year. It’s at this time of the year that e-commerce teams in the travel industry are optimising their websites, performing last minute usability, launching new functionality and expanding their hosting capacity in order to be in peak condition for January. It’s a really busy time for us but the effort will be well worth it when January comes and you can reap the benefits.

A succesful January can make or break a travel company and preparing your online channel for this could be the activity with the single highest ROI that you undertake this year!

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