Online holiday-planning disruption: To book your own or not?

Cape Town - The trend of online travel booking has taken the local community of South Africa by storm as many locals are turning into their own 'travel-agents' when booking their holiday. 

It was reported in the CheapFlights Compass Report that locals are turning to online research and managing the weak rand against the dollar and euro in a savvy and clever way.

Similarly kulula holidays says it has seen an increase within its online booking and holiday securing from locals across South Africa. Thailand and Mauritius appear to be 'go-to' destination for South Africans as many are flocking to its beaches for a break.  

We recently interviewed Desmond O'Connor, head of kulula holidays to better understand this pattern of growth. 

Is online booking the new way to travel?

The concept of online booking through a main provider such as kulula is that it's linked to many more sites in order to secure your travel plans as quick as possible - resolving car rental, accommodation or transfer companies all at once, says O' Connor.

The time constraint when booking online is highly minimized with access throughout the day. Manual booking can take 12 - 48 hours and is quoted pricing - usually not the final pricing as well as confirmed cost, he says.

"This enables customers to research and book holidays 24/7 and at the same time receive immediate live availability and confirmation of the best prices."

The difference with online booking is that it provides a clear and live process for travellers to engage with the full costs of their travel plans - therefore allowing more precise and secure planning. Locals are wanting to stretch the rand in order to make the most of their holidays and are able to compare costs when online at their own preference.

The online booking portal says competitive pricing and having two airlines in the same group - allowing for a competitive edge.

"A recent example of this was our last promotion to Victoria Falls, where we managed to reduce the price of an average package from R70 00 per person, to R4 800 per person, a saving of over 30%" states O' Connor.  

SEE: #SABudgetTravel: Online travel booking patterns sees 'positive growth'

Travel Agents: Are they a thing of the past?

One has to ask though if this is the end of the traditional in-house travel agent, a concern that has been brewing across the SA industry for some time?

The use of travel agents is based on personal preference and can be a simpler mechanism to use when booking a holiday for a large group of people - as it can provide organization for the management of tickets and accommodation for a large number of people.

SEE: Travel agent vs DYI: 3 Scenarios to consider

Travel agents provide a 'personal touch' towards your travel planning but can incur individual costs compared to online booking, says O'Connor.

Whether or not there is an additional cost when using a travel agent is dependent on the travel company.  

The future of travel agents will move towards a move digital and specialised sector in order to keep up with competitive online booking services.

Planning for travel is an emotional process but O'Connor says that individuals still check the prices online in order to make a comparative assessment.  

Ultimately it boils down to these Online Booking benefits, he says: 

- Being able to make a comparative decision based on multiple travel deals and costs - ensuring you choose the best deal on offer.

You are able to do research and make travel plans 24/7.

- Last minute deals and specials can be advertised and marketed easily towards the customer. 

There is no 'hidden agenda' in terms of incentives, costs and back-end deals - therefore bias selling of a destination or package to a customer.

- Self molding of the 'ideal holiday' as travellers can cater trips to their personal desires.  

SEE: Visa- Free Travel: Where your South African Passport can take you

O'Connor says, "Travellers are looking to experience more destinations and see what the destination has to offer... people are looking for more than just a stay at a hotel". 

Travellers are looking for a personalized experience that caters to their specific personal interests and they are able to ensure this and plan it online  accordingly. This differs from the planned group tours that take place on a rigid schedule. 

Here is a list of travel saving hacks that O'Conner swears by: 

1. Subscribe to the newsletters from online booking services as last minute deals are frequently advertised - (you can subscribe to Traveller24's weekend newsletter here for top tips and destination trends).

2. Compare prices on different days of travel - Friday is the most expensive day to travel and can be dramatically less to travel on Saturday.

3. Try not to travel in 'peak season' in order to save on travelling costs.

4. International travel hack: "August is the month that most Europeans take their summer breaks, so this can drive prices up,"  says O'Connor. 

5. Local travel hack: April - September is the ideal time to travel as hotels and flights are at discounted prices allowing for great deals to be found.

What to read next on Traveller24

- Visas 101: Everything you need to know about applying for a tourist visa 

- The changing faces of travel searches: Does SA deserve a braai emoji? 

- #AfriTravel: Ethiopia rolls out e-visas

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