South African online travel booking site, Travelstart, posted a 30% transaction growth in the first seven months of 2010, a year in which the travel and tourism industry both at home and abroad still reeled from effects of the global economic crisis, the outbreak of H1N1, and by traveller numbers lower than they had been in decades.
“It’s evidence of what we’ve known for quite some time,” says founder and CEO, Stephan Ekbergh. “The research and buying habits of South African travellers is moving online in a significant way.”
Travelstart’s 30% growth in online transactions thus far in 2010 comes on the back of 70% growth in transactions in 2009, a year in which the global industry suffered a 4% decline; a year in which foreign arrivals to South Africa grew only 3.6%, and a year in which the number of domestic trips in South Africa declined by 0.79%.
“Clearly, people are finding benefits in booking travel and accommodation online. The internet has fuelled a demand for an uncomplicated, reliable, and accessible commercial marketplace where consumers may easily compare prices and services, and make informed choices about where, exactly, to spend their money," says Ekbergh.
“People want to take charge of their travel arrangements and itineraries. This need is well served by a one-stop service such as ours that offers broad comparison of flights, accommodation, car hire and all-inclusive travel packages, both domestically and to hundreds of destinations abroad.”
Volume growth, he says, may also be ascribed to growing numbers of Internet users in South Africa, travellers using social media to research holiday destinations and suppliers, and the emergence of a far more cost-conscious travel consumer.
“Just over 5.3-million South Africans now have access to the Internet. South Africans particularly have become more technologically savvy, and have developed both brand confidence and trust in online commercial reliability. Online booking is emerging as the norm rather than the exception.”
Ekbergh is extremely optimistic about the future of Travelstart and the broader online commercial environment for travel and tourism. Independent research says Internet accessibility grows at the rate of about 15% a year in South Africa, and 11-million adult South Africans will be online by 2015.
Airline tickets were purchased online last year by 44% of all adult Internet users, and South Africans who did shop online agreed that these kinds of transactions were convenient, user-friendly and far easier than traditional high street shopping.
“This is the future of the travel and tourism sector, not only abroad but also here at home, too. However, no matter how much online travel planning and buying grows, people will continue to demand reliable and efficient service, and strong brands in which to believe and in which to invest. Robust, sustainable growth will demand the delivery of all this.”