As the International Tourism Fair takes place in Berlin, a report shows more Germans are booking their holidays online. But travel agencies have some aces up their sleeves.
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Back in the good old days, booking a holiday was so simple. There was the trip to the travel agency, the brochures to flick through, the enlightened moment when the ideal all-inclusive hotel on the Spanish coast revealed itself and the whole deal was then booked by the friendly assistant. But now, in the age of the Internet, there is just too much choice!
This lament is not a common one, least of all from Germans who have taken to Internet booking like an Englishman to a Spanish beach bar. This year alone, 30 percent of all Germans questioned by the polling institute Forsa say that they will use the Internet to book their vacation.
The poll, taken and published in advance of the International Tourism Fair, which runs from March 11-15 in Berlin, shows a increase in online booking, up from 27 percent of Germans in 2004. Internet booking is starting to boom with the wide selection of information, offers and outlets available at the click of a mouse.
Half of all reservations over web by 2013
Tourism experts calculate that Internet reservations will make up 50 percent of all holiday bookings within the next six to eight years. Recent figures from the United States seem to confirm this trend. In the US, 65 percent of all flight tickets are booked on the web, with 20 percent dealt with by call centers and only 15 percent by travel agencies.
Customers are increasingly looking to book their holidays without the hassle. And the Internet provides. Unlike travel agencies, booking online keeps no one waiting in a queue to check with the agent for availability.
However, Nicole Habrich of the German Tourism Federation (DTV) is convinced that the new trend will not see the demise of word-of-mouth travel information, even if the agencies are not the ones to benefit. On the contrary, Habrich believes that experiences shared with friends and family will actually play a greater role in future holiday planning.
Travel agencies sceptical of figures
Stephan Busch, president of the German Federation of Mid-Range Travel Enterprises (ASR), is even more sceptical that Internet booking will do serious damage to the travel agency business. He believes the increasing numbers of Internet reservations are "relative" and wonders what the true relation is between those who search online and those who actually make reservations using the point-and-click method.
Busch is of the opinion that the Internet cannot offer what human contact can: the look in the eye and the tone of voice which emphasizes the seriousness of the once-in-a-lifetime offer. Many people, he says, will go to a travel agency in these cases to confirm whether an online booking is actually for real and then will book there and then.
Lufthansa's zero commission a factor
Busch thinks the actual problem travel agencies suffer from is in fact the cutting of ticket commissions by Germany's national carrier Lufthansa in September 2004. The money lost by travel agencies through the withdrawal of ticket sales commissions has had to be recouped from customers through higher prices leading to disgruntled clients trawling the web for bargains.
The German Travel Agent and Tour Operator Federation's (DRV) issued a complaint against Lufthansa but the date for the hearing has been delayed. Busch told DW-WORLD that the ASR was considering its own complaint.
The package tour remains a German favorite
Experts believe that Internet booking is also having an adverse effect on package tours since individual travel arrangements are becoming more popular with mix-and-match or 'modular construction' online booking.
Busch, however, still believes that the package tour market remains an important and strong one in the travel industry. He trusts the results of the research group Vacation and Traveling, which reported in 2004 that a clear majority of Germans -- 67 percent -- prefer package tours.
"The Germans are not the travel world champions because they are travel-mad, but because the industry has got a qualitatively good product at its disposal with the package tour," Busch said. The German consumer often believes they are saving money with the all inclusive deal over the so-called modular construction package, he said. However, Busch had words of warning: "A modular construction can be a sensible option when everything is booked through one supplier but if I book the flight with one outlet, the hotel with another, no connection exists. This often leads to complications and, ultimately, unhappiness." For these reasons, he added, the tourism industry would have to face a very bleak future to give up package tours.