Mike Teasdale, Planning Director at Harvest Digital, comments, ‘This research shows that user reviews are not just one of the factors that consumers use to decide between different holidays, but are the most trusted information source of all. Recent moves 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. This has implications for all kinds of non-generic services and not just travel. For example, students choosing between different colleges are now very likely to look for the opinions of current alumni before making a decision.’
User-generated content sites are more likely to be seen as trustworthy by women than men and, when it comes to age, 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. One half of Britons online who take more than five week-plus holidays each year, regard user generated reviews the most reliable – making this group two and a half times more likely than the average online holidaymaker to do so. 33% of frequent travellers regard review websites as the most reliable source of information as do one third of respondents who take four holidays per year.
Travel agents will be concerned to hear that nobody taking more than three holidays per year considered them to be the most reliable source of information. Their advocates are most likely to be those who take just one holiday per year – one fifth of this group considering travel agent sites to be the most reliable source – a group that is unlikely to rely most on user reviews. Although the reliance on user reviews decreases with age, it is still valued by the older generation with 21% of Britons online aged 45-54 and 18% of those aged 55-64 citing it as the most reliable source. The over 65s view online tourist guides as the most reliable online source and this group is the only one more likely to consult a newspaper / magazine article than use a search engine to research their holidays.
Fiona McKinnon, European Corporate Development Director at Adviva, adds, ‘The research reveals that consumers are not only using a variety of online sources when researching holiday destinations, but they are also becoming more informed in deciding who they want to travel with. It is important, therefore, that travel companies advertise to a wide reach to encompass the young and old, men and women and also the frequent traveller alongside those who’s holiday is a major annual event’
Alex Burmaster, European Internet Analyst at Nielsen//Netratings, continues, ‘It is absolutely vital for the travel industry to understand and embrace the revolution of peer-to-peer content online. Whether you refer to it as user-generated content, the ‘people’s Internet’ or Web 2.0, travellers are turning to the collective knowledge and opinion of people they trust the most when booking holidays – each other, not you.’
The research cross referenced trusted sources of information against type of holidays people book online. People booking long-haul, fly-drives or city breaks were more likely to trust online review sites compared with those booking a beach holiday or activity break. Sites with reviews by other travellers were considered reliable by all Britons online, especially 22% of beach holiday-makers and 20% of long-haul travellers.