Online bookings go the long haul

2013-05-15 07:54

Online resources boost SA travel

2013-05-14 11:28

Many travellers now depend on websites and blogs for advice on where, when and how to travel. Check out how the internet is being used to market South Africa. WATCH

London - Low-cost airlines have encouraged many South Africans to book online and while longhaul travellers have not been as quick to follow suit, this is starting to change.

When low-cost carriers first began operating here some 12 years ago, the model was predicated on direct sales, reducing the airline’s costs and enabling it to pass on some of the savings to customers.

Since then using the internet to book domestic flights and even car hire and hotel accommodation has become commonplace.

According to Daniel Bainbridge, British Airways’ strategic commercial development manager, although longhaul customers have lagged their domestic counterparts, the airline’s international online bookings are increasing and outperforming other direct sales channels.

“In the past year we’ve seen online bookings from South Africa grow by nearly 12.5%, while call centre bookings have remained static.”

He attributes this to customers becoming increasingly familiar with making travel arrangements online, from researching prices to checking in, as well as improvements to travel websites.

“Over the past few years we’ve done a lot to make more user-friendly. Now it’s easier to get the information you need without having to navigate through a series of intermediate steps. The pages also load faster – a necessary consideration in markets such as South Africa where there are bandwidth constraints.”

Importantly, customers have a 24-hour ‘cooling off’ period in which time they can make amendments to online bookings free of charge.

“This gives people peace-of-mind, particularly if they’re booking for a family group or multiple sectors and they’re worried that finger trouble may lead to a costly mistake,” says Bainbridge.

Other changes include better flight-search selections, which enable users to search by price or travel date, and the ability to also book hotels and car hire.

He believes that features such as online check-in, home-printed boarding passes, getting digital boarding passes sent to a smartphone and the development of a ba app have all contributed to making customers more comfortable with the idea of transacting online.

The website currently accounts for some 18% of bookings made in South Africa. Globally 33% of sales are made on, but Bainbridge is confident that local longhaul sales won’t lag behind for too much longer.

“Typically people start by booking domestic or regional services and once they realise how easy it is and how much time they save, they take the next step and do the same with longhaul flights.”

Bainbridge says new features such as a registration scheme which allows customers to save their personal details so the system ‘remembers’ them when they make future bookings will help to retain online converts and attract new customers. Later this year a feature which securely saves payment card details will make booking and paying for future flights online even quicker.

“We know that some customers, particularly those with difficult routeings or complicated travel plans, will want the reassurance of a travel professional’s help to plan the journey, but people with relatively straightforward itineraries will increasingly start to book online. Our experience in Europe is that over the past decade online leisure travel bookings have increased from 13% to 76%. We have no reason to believe there won’t be similar incremental increases here.”
Read more on:    british airways  |  flights  |  travel international

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