Click yourself abroad

March 2012

What do we need for a successful holiday? Time, friendly people, a destination with guaranteed sunshine? Most would agree, but there is one more thing that has now evidently become essential for many holidaymakers. Before picking out the right suitcase and accessories for their trip, a rising number of Germans are first going on the internet. Online bookings are very popular right now. For many travelers, that special time of year does not begin at the check-in desk or across the border, but on the World Wide Web.

Last year, Germans went on vacation more than 132 million times, which is more than in the previous year. In most cases, 96 million vacations, nothing was left to chance, with means of transport, accommodation or both already being booked in advance. However, the share of last-minute, spontaneous bookings has also increased since 2007, from 23% to 27%. As a result of economic developments in recent years, there has also been a rise in the number of “sofa tourists” who stay with friends or family for their vacations rather than paying for accommodation, but otherwise behave like “normal” tourists.

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Growth is considerably stronger when it comes to the booking method: in the last two years, the online booking share rose by six percentage points. While in 2009, consumers clicked their way to 27% of vacations, by 2011 33% of vacations were either completely or partly booked online. This is a finding from GfK TravelScope.

Silver surfers catching up

The World Wide Web is certainly not only used by the younger generations now, but they are still considered the most internet savvy. This is also, as yet, still reflected in the booking of vacations, with younger consumers continuing to lead the way on the web, using online travel portals particularly frequently. Young adults under the age of 34 make 40% of all online travel bookings. As the age of the consumer increases, so too does the likelihood that they will go to a travel agency. Of advance bookings made online, the 50 to 64 age group account for 21%, and this drops even lower to 9% for older holidaymakers. The silver surfer generation is however catching up: over the last five years, there has been a significant increase in their share of online bookings. Surfing the web before vacations is therefore clearly popular across all age groups.

In addition to age, income and household size also seems to influence the choice of how to book vacations. Online bookings seem to be more popular among households with higher incomes. More than two thirds (69%) of all online bookings are attributable to households with net monthly income of more than EUR 2,250. In contrast, the share for households with tighter (vacation) budgets is only 30%.

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One click for a short trip

Whether a vacation is booked on the internet or in person therefore depends on a variety of factors. For shorter trips of between two and four days, consumers increasingly do not seek personal advice at the travel agents. Of all vacations booked online, 62% are short trips and 38% are longer vacations. However, the share of longer trips out of all bookings is still 42%. The speed of the internet is clearly particularly in demand for short breaks. This is also evident when looking at vacation activities: culture and sightseeing trips, which are generally shorter breaks, comprise 32% of online bookings, but the online share for beach holidays, which as a rule require much less guidance and are preferred by younger holidaymakers, is also a respectable 28%.

Planning far ahead is less likely to be online

Besides the length of the trip, the time of booking plays a role in whether holidaymakers organize their vacation online or seek personal advice from a travel agent. The more last minute a booking is made, the more likely it is that consumers will not go to the travel agents and turn to the wealth of online travel portals instead. Sales reflect this trend: for vacations booked up to four weeks before the holiday, the sales share of online travel portals is 30% and travel agents have only half that. If a vacation is more complex to organize, Germans take more time to consider and plan and the likelihood of visiting a travel agent also rises. Vacations that are booked more than three months before they start support this, with a reversal in sales share distribution to the benefit of travel agents.

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Last year, Germans spent about EUR 12 billion in total on booking vacations online, which is around 8% more than in the previous year. Since 2007, online travel portals have registered growth in sales of more than 50%. A comparison between the bookings in January 2012 and January 2011 shows that the sales increase of travel agents has been slightly greater than that of online portals. This growth is also reflected in the latest booking data from GfK Travel Insights, which collects bookings from 1,200 travel agents and more than 30 internet portals. Travel agents’ sales increased by 11% and online sales by 10% on January 2011. The current strength of travel agents is connected to the fact that January is traditionally the month in which families, in particular, book their annual holiday, for which they like to seek personal advice. From a long-term perspective, online portals are however registering stronger growth.

Spain and Turkey top the list

Spain and Turkey are currently the most popular destinations for German holidaymakers, coming top in the rankings. Significant growth was recorded for both countries in travel agents and online bookings. Following in third place is Egypt, which is also the partner country of this year’s ITB, the world’s largest travel trade show. In light of the upheaval in North Africa following the Arab Spring in 2011 and the subsequent crash in sales for the travel industry, countries such as Egypt are optimistic about a revival in tourism this year. It is hoped that the advertising impact of the ITB will attract more tourists to the country in 2012. Egypt is in fact already becoming more popular with Germans booking online, in particular. Sales in January 2012 were up 18% in comparison with the same month of the prior year. At travel agents, however, bookings fell by 21% in the same period, which means that following falling sales last year, there is growth potential.

In both booking channels, sales increased for the USA (number 4 – offline), Maldives (number 6 – offline) and the Dominican Republic (number 10 – offline). Travel agents and internet portals are registering a rise in the popularity of these destinations. Conversely, Greece suffered both online and offline, which is certainly attributable in part to the euro crisis triggering demonstrations and unrest in the country. Nonetheless, Greece still ranked within the Top10 destinations in January.

It is not necessary to travel far for vacations, close, familiar areas are also great for a break. Germany has long been the most popular travel destination for Germans. In terms of bookings with travel agents, it is currently number 5 (online portals: number 6) of the top 10 travel destinations this year. Although travel agents’ sales for trips in the homeland dropped 4% this year, the popularity did rise with Germans booking online.

Short or long, near or far – these criteria decide where the most exciting time of year will take us. Regardless of whether a travel expert or the World Wide Web helps us find the way to the dream beach or the mountains, what is most important is that we are off!

Data source: GfK Panel Services (GfK TravelScope, March 2012)
If you have any queries please contact Roland Gassner, GfK Retail and Technology (GfK Travel Insights, Februar 2012)
If you have any queries please contact Doerte Nordbeck, GfK SE.

For any further queries regarding GfK Compact, please contact Claudia Gaspar, e-mail:

March 2012