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

Cape Town - If there's one thing South African travellers know, it's that booking travel is all about making smart choices and doing the necessary homework and holiday planning research. 

With trend data from the first Cheapflights Compass Report reinforcing this stance, showing exactly how local travellers are dealing with the tough economic situation and being savvy with their euro and dollar- mauled rands.

Cheapflights says it has analysed almost 600k minutes of online search data, for its local ZA domain, looking at inbound and outbound travel trends for South Africa, excluding travel across the African continent however - and its results show a marked 51% increase on Cheapflights’ booking data from 2016.

Highlights indicate that the school holidays remain the most popular time to travel, as well as the most expensive and while the UK is the most searched travel destinations - it seems Cape Town has been overtaken by the more frenetic Johannesburg when it comes to destination searches, most prominently from China. 

'51% increase in flight searches, compared to 2016'

The survey crunched data accumulated by South Africans between 1st April 2016 and 31st March 2017, across the Cheapflights desktop and mobile websites, and its apps.  

During this period some 592 292 minutes were spent by South Africans searching for flights on its ZA domain, which is equivalent of an estimated 68 years, and saw locals going on an estimated 86 000 times in the last 12 months, according to Ricky Wilkes, Global head of sales for Cheapflights. 

With an estimated 400 000 registered users Wilkes says the local audience is particularly hungry for travel deals, rather than independent bookings. Locals are also showing a preference for booking via mobile, with over 55% coming via Apps or Tablets - which is just shy of the global average of 60%, says Wilkes. 

He also mentioned the online search platforms intent to partner with tourism boards to improve its ability to showcase destinations better, to the extent that it can "bust some myths about places" that might not be that well known or top of the trends lists. 

'Trends synchronised with school holidays'

Unsurprisingly, says Wilkes, the most desirable travel times for South Africans correspond directly with holidays on the school calendar. You would be wise to avoid last-minute as far as possible, as these times of the year are also the most expensive times to book. 

January, July and December are the most popular and the most expensive periods to travel from South Africa, with the average international airfare edging close to R10 000 in January. Those who booked three to six months in advance showed a saving of as much as 14% per booking, says Wilkes. 

December, June, July and March account for 49% of all departure month searches, all of which are periods where there is a significant break in the school curriculum. 

SEE: Find your Family Holiday Escape - searching these flight deals 

UK remains the principal destination

The United Kingdom continues to be a favourite travel destination for locals, with the report showing a steady 29%, making it the most searched for destination – more than double that of its closest competitor, the United States at 14%, says Wilkes.

Other popular destinations include Thailand, France and Italy.

'November most affordable time to fly'

The cheapest month to fly from South Africa is May at an average fair of R7 414. Following this is November R7 659), with October in third place, when travellers can expect to pay an average fair of R7 732 for international travel.

Travellers can also save money by planning ahead; by booking plane tickets three to six months in advance flyers can save 14% in airfare, compared to 9% when making reservations between one and three months in advance. 

“Travellers can save if they’re prepared to fly in the middle of the week on Wednesdays. Mondays are the second cheapest day to fly and Tuesdays the third,” says Shelton.

'Dubai is cheapest for SA travellers'

When it comes to international destinations Dubai is the cheapest for South Africans to travel to at less than R6 000 per flight (leaving from OR Tambo). The second most affordable destination is Italy (R6 891), followed by the Netherlands (R7 652). 

This makes sense when considering the growth of the Gulf carriers. 

SEE: Becoming a global aviation leader: Is SA on track?

During peak holiday periods – specifically June, July and December – the Netherlands falls away and makes room instead for Thailand (R7 851) and Hong Kong (R8 009). Even during peak season, the United Arab Emirates remains affordable for South Africans at R6 608. Flights to all other destinations during this period are north of R8 000, with the USA, Canada and Australia topping the most expensive list.

SA loves the UK and the UK loves SA

While the most searched for destination by South Africans is the UK, the converse is also true; 65% of searches to South Africa originate in the UK. The USA and Germany are adrift as contenders in second and third place, at 11% and 10% respectively. 

Searches from the UK are so prevalent that they account for almost double the number of searches originating from the other six counties, combined. The Australia-Pacific region accounts for less than 15% of all flight searches, with the breakdown as Australia 7%, Hong Kong 3%, China 3% and Japan 1%.

Johannesburg vs Cape Town

Cape Town may be renowned for its natural splendour, but it seems like the more bustling Joburg is the city of choice for foreigners travelling to the country.

Significantly, more than half (62%) of inbound searches favour flights to Johannesburg over Cape Town - though it is worth noting that this number is heavily skewed by search data from the UK, from which there are more direct flights to Johannesburg than to Cape Town.

At 83% and 80% respectively, travellers from China and Hong Kong strongly favour flying to Jozi, rather than the Mother City. With China’s growing interest in the investment and economic growth possibilities in Africa, the preference for Joburg may well be business related.

'Germans prefer Cape Town'

Germans, on the other hand, are twice as likely to choose Cape Town over Johannesburg, which also suggests travel for pleasure rather than business.

“The most popular time for travelling to South Africa – December – suggests that the bulk of visitors are here on holiday. Nineteen percent of travellers want to visit the country in December, right in the middle of the South African summer with Christmas and New Year falling over this period”, shares Shelton.

March and September are favourable times to visit too, with 11% of searches for March and 10% for September. The preference for March is likely related to the Easter holiday, while September is the beginning of spring in South Africa, which typically brings more moderate weather.

'SA prime for both work and play'

“Despite the economic uncertainty South Africa is currently experiencing, South Africans are still travelling abroad, possibly saving up to do so instead of travelling more frequently within the country”, believes Shelton, “and clearly international tourists still view South Africa as a prime destination – both for work and play”.

“The data also shows the enduring attraction of South Africa, especially in lucrative markets like the UK and US. The country is still seen as a safe, good value destination that almost guarantees good weather, great food and warm welcome to the sensible traveller, which is positive news for the travel industry here as global competition for tourism spend increases. We look forward to working with them on exploring how our products and brand profile in those markets can help them to maximise this opportunity,” says Wilkes.

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