Aisha Al Ahmad 

In the current model, and after the return of the trip, OTAs are not relevant

The study commissioned by Travelport and involving our researchers over a period of months and a sample of travellers from around the world, shows that almost half (46%) of travellers do not remember which online travel agency (OTA) they used to book their last leisure trip, according to Travelport's Modern Marketing Study, a new independent research study commissioned by Travelport.

To better understand the current online travel retail landscape and identify gaps in travellers' shopping experiences, Travelport commissioned a new research study in partnership with Toluna Research among thousands of leisure and business travellers around the world.

Modern travel marketing demands memorable experiences

The modern marketing study reveals important factors that contribute to brand recall for OTAs, such as the booking experience. Of all travellers surveyed who could recall the last OTA they booked with, the vast majority (78%) rated the experience as "above average" or "excellent". And while most US travellers do not have a favourite OTA (55%), many travellers from Saudi Arabia (63%) and Japan (70%) say they have a favourite travel website.

Among travellers who do have a preferred OTA, factors such as "a wider range of choice" have driven loyalty in Saudi Arabia (54%), the US (51%) and Japan (38%). OTAs also win over travellers in Japan with personalised experiences (45%), as well as the ability to "easily navigate the website" in Saudi Arabia (42%) and the US (40%).

"As one of the first sectors to go digital many years ago, the travel industry has a strong history of innovation," said Jen Catto, Chief Marketing Officer at Travelport. "However, travellers' digital expectations have evolved rapidly, far outpacing the current capabilities of travel retail. Our priority is to prioritise our customers' needs to better serve their customers: agencies need more choice, clear comparison shopping and easy ways to manage experiences such as exchanges/referrals. While price is important, these value-added factors create a 'great' modern retail experience that stands out and earns loyalty."

Customers are less price sensitive

Historically, OTAs have tried to compete on a single factor - price - but that's not what customers need to remember the experience. Of travellers who do not remember the last OTA they used, almost half (44%) rated their last experience as "poor" or "below average". In some parts of the world, travellers from Saudi Arabia (60%) and the United States (60%) are the most likely to forget specific OTA brands they have used, and there is a significant difference of 19 and 27 percentage points between recall and an "above average" experience, respectively.

The study also indicates that OTAs may be less distinguishable because they have focused on the wrong things. While it is true that they focus on price, they are likely to do so at the expense of other experience factors that travellers consider important when booking a trip.

As travellers use OTA sites to search and compare, the survey revealed a missed opportunity to book, with the majority of travellers no longer booking a car (67%) or air travel (55%), and more than a third (36%) not booking their hotel accommodation on OTA sites. However, travellers also indicated that the ability to "book everything at once" is one of the most important reasons for using an OTA.

On the other hand, while the majority (78%) of business travellers follow company policy, the study reveals that 99% of employees do not know the name of the travel management company (TMC) they use to book their business travel.

Delving deeper into possible causes, the survey found that the majority of business travellers (69%) consider the options provided to be "undesirable", while over a third (46%) want more choice, (38%) lack confidence in general in their TMC booking and (35%) want business travel options that support their well-being.

Author: Aisha Al Ahmad

University Professor in London

The authors are responsible for the choice and presentation of the facts contained in this document and for the opinions expressed therein, which are not necessarily those of Tourism and Society Think Tank and do not commit the Organization, and should not be attributed to TSTT or its members.

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