Consumers are increasingly turning to and trusting online reviews when booking their holidays, according to research from Nielsen/NetRatings, commissioned by Adviva and online marketing agency Harvest Digital.
The study found that 62% of British consumers who use the internet tend to use search engines when planning and booking their holidays, and 36% use travel agents' own web sites. But web sites with consumer-generated reviews were considered the most trustworthy of all.
Sources consumers trust
When asked which online source they trusted to provide "the most reliable information of all", user generated content sites (such as TripAdvisor) were cited by 21% of respondents, ahead of 15% each for review sites (like TimeOut.com) and official local information sites (such as VisitScotland.com). Travel agents' own web sites (such as ThomasCook.com) were considered the most reliable by 12%, followed by 11% who rely most on search engines.
According to Mike Teasdale, planning director at Harvest Digital, "This shows that user reviews are not just one of the factors that consumers use to decide between different holidays, but they are the most trusted information source of all. Recent developments, like the Guardian's new travel portal featuring user generated content and the launch of WAYN, suggest that the industry is waking up to the importance of consumer opinions to travel choices."
Other sectors affected
Interestingly, the company found that this trends also has implications for other non-generic services. For example, students choosing between different colleges are now very likely to look for the opinions of current alumni before making a decision.
In terms of gender bias, user-generated content web sites are more likely to be seen as trustworthy by women than men. But when it comes to age, they are most trusted by 25-34 year-olds. However, the validity of user reviews are truly championed by the travel industry's most important group - frequent travellers (who take 5 or more holidays of at least 1 week each year) - of whom 50% regard user generated reviews as the most reliable source of information.
Travel agent issues
Travel agents were a surprising find, too. Not one holiday-maker who takes more than 3 holidays per year considered travel agents to be the most reliable source of information. In fact, their advocates are most likely to be those who take only one holiday per year, with only 20% of this group considering travel agent web sites the most reliable source.
Although consumers' reliance on user reviews decreases with age, it is still valued by the older generation, with 21% of those aged 45-54 and 18% of those aged 55-64 citing it as the most reliable source. The over 65 age group view online tourist guides as being the most reliable online source of information, and this group is the only one more likely to consult a newspaper or magazine article than to use a search engine to research their holiday.