53% of UK consumers research and buy holidays online, though many could be deterred by unclear pricing, according to a survey commissioned by Econsultancy. 

The Toluna survey of 2,004 UK consumers found that 29% of respondents don't find travel websites easy to use, and that unclear pricing is the most likely reason for abandoning purchases online. 

Some highlights from the survey after the jump... 

Researching and buying holidays

The survey found that 53% of respondents research and buy holidays online, while almost 30% research online and book their holidays offline. 

15% said that holiday research and purchase all takes place offline, while 14% research offline before booking online. 

To put it another way, the internet is involved in almost 85% of holiday purchases, which highlights the importance of the web for travel firms. 

For most people, a holiday will be one of the major purchases of the year, so it's understandable that consumers will take time considering their options. 

While just under 10% take less than a day to research their purchase, the majority (64%) take two weeks or more, while 26% take a week or less. 

Travel websites need to realise that customers will take time to make a decision about a purchase, and the best approach is to ensure that consumers can get the information they need without having to shop around too much.

Apart from offering competitive prices, a usable search function, and plenty of reviews and information on a site can reduce the need for customers to head elsewhere. 

Which resources do customers use for holiday research? 

  • 53% of respondents used travel agent's websites while researching their holiday purchase. 
  • 49% head for Google or some other search engine. 
  • 42% use flight or hotel search engines. 
  • 40% are influenced by recommendations from friends and family. 
  • Duncan Bannatyne may not like it, but 39% of respondents use Tripadvisor reviews as part of their research. 
  • Just under 10% use Facebook and other social sites for holiday research. 

Which website features help people to choose a holiday? 

Almost 59% of respondents said that photos of the destination and accommodation help them to choose a holiday, while 25% would like to see videos. 

This makes perfect sense, and a well produced video or set of high quality images can do more to sell a holiday than pages of sales copy. However, the quality and availability of image and videos are variable on travel sites. 

I recently spent a week or so looking for a summer holiday for my family, and found myself more often than not heading for Tripadvisor to find images of destinations that should have been provided by travel agents. 

For example, this hotel listing on Thomas Cook contains just four images of this apartment in Corfu, and none of them can be enlarged. 

Travel - Thomas Cook photos

The Thomson Holidays website provides a wider choice of photos, which helps users to get more of an idea about the destination, though the pictures are relatively small: 

Travel - Thomson photos

It also provides videos of many destinations, which is potentially very useful, but sadly they don't work without a plugin: 

Travel - Thomson plugin required

I'm using a Mac, but this is the first time I've been unable to view a video on an e-commerce site. After clicking to download the required plugin, I found that I needed something called Flip4Mac, which costs $29. 

Perhaps this is just a problem for Mac users, but videos should be in a format that all customers will be able to see, otherwise any benefits of increased conversion rates are lost. 

Reviews were another useful resource for 58% of respondents, and most travel websites now incorporate them. Users are going to look for reviews on Tripadvisor anyway, so it makes sense to offer reviews onsite. 

Thomson adds the average Tripadvisor review score to its holiday listings, which is a smart move: 

Travel - Thomson prices

52% said they found information about the destination useful when choosing a holiday, while 38% said they found maps showing the location of the airport and resort useful. 

Why would people abandon a travel purchase online? 

Unclear pricing and hidden charges are the biggest bugbear for 64% of respondents, followed by lack of information (19%), the need for more help with the booking process (9%), and difficulties searching for holidays (8%). 

Pricing is a tricky issue for travel sites, as there are several extras that can be added to the basic cost of flight and hotel: travel insurance, in-flight meals, airport transfers and more. 

Travel sites need to be a clear as possible here though, and should be careful about adding extras so that users have to actively unselect these items. 

I like to see the total price shown in the listing when I have selected the holiday and flight, then I will add on extras if I want them. 

For example, in the screenshot above, the total price is shown as £3,296, but having gone through a couple more steps of the booking process, without adding anything myself, the price changes to £3,437:  

Travel - Thomson price

Thomson has decided to add another £141 to the price originally quoted by adding in flight meals and an extra baggage allowance that I hadn't asked for. 

I now have to use each of the five drop-down menus shown below to remove the extra baggage charges, as well as unselecting the in-flight meals if I don't want to pay the extra £141. This is presumably what annoys 64% of the survey respondents. 

Travel - Thomson add ons

Graham Charlton

Published 8 February, 2011 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

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Comments (11)

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Lee Duddell

Interesting insight, BUT the usual "warnings" apply. What users say they will do or have done - in a survey for instance - is often very very different to what they actually do (on a website).

Co-incidentally we've just run a usability review of another travel-sector website (Disneyland Paris) which may be of interest:



over 7 years ago


Pk Anane

Great post. Very helpful

over 7 years ago


Nazrul Hisham

Great insight especially the breakdowns on key user experience components.

Kinda wonder the research correspondent demographic and sample case. Might want to conduct such exercise in other locations that have different Internet use pattern.

Thanks :)

over 7 years ago


Arron Zhang

Interesting analysis, I do agree with most of the points. I do hate the hidden price when they seem to be give you a quote you can't refuse.

over 7 years ago


Arron Zhang

To Nazrul: you can use the survey tool to target a number of major countries in North American and Europe based on age, gender, income level and education. Plesae let me know if you want any help.

over 7 years ago


David Lakins

A great post Graham. I have been trying to gain a better insight into the the UK holiday market - in particular those customers using Holiday Parks and Caravan sites. Web search, social media and Trip Advisor are three of the areas we are focusing our attention to help the Parks we work with stay competitive.

over 7 years ago


Jon Ewing

If the three most important steps to success in the hotel trade are "location, location, location", this article seems to suggest that the three most important ways to promote it online are "pictures, pictures, pictures".

over 7 years ago



Just a little aside that the Flip4Mac player (for playing Windows Media Video on mac) is free. The Pro and Studio editions are for creating Windows Media Video files are chargable but these are different products.

Still that doesn't change the fact that WMV shouldn't be the sole format available for video on a website. Simple browser-based forking should allow the most appropraite format to be selected for the user.

over 7 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

You're right Mark, I didn't notice the free version initially, though it doesn't make it as clear as it could.

over 7 years ago


Debbie Owen

Travel sites are normally so big that they can afford to lose a few customers without it having any affect on the company. If you want 'personal service' you go for smaller companies. Simple. I travel with a smaller company and they're fabulous. I tell them what I fancy and they sort it; it really is as easy as that. I go to Finland, Iceland, Lapland and Sweden with this company... they treat me like an individual. That's the difference! I'm not on a conveyor belt, I'm a customer. The bottom line is that you have to talk to a person, not a computer.

over 7 years ago



I am a small travel agent in a Small himalayan buddhist country. My web site is not that convincing and has attracted only few customers. But my focus from here on will be on the website to increase my client. I am sure, people who come through me will remember my company, because i am determined to give my customers the holiday of a lifetime.

over 7 years ago

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