Japanese leisure travellers are using online travel agents to research their international trips but prefer to book at the website of a traditional offline agent.
The findings came out of research group GfK's Consumer Travel Tracker Japan. The 500-strong sample's preferences are still weighted towards online, but the gap with offline is smaller than in other mature e-commerce markets.
When it comes to research, the online study found that two in five (39%) travellers used the internet as the only source of information compared with 28% who referenced offline channels only. The remainder used a mix of both.
Of those who went online, nearly half (47%) said online travel agents' websites and/or apps were their preferred channel; airline dotcoms found favour with 25%; the online presence of offline agents 23%.
However, there is an interest pivot when it comes to actually booking the trip, with the web sites of offline agents outperforming the OTAs by some distance - 54% of people book with their high street agents' website compared with 20% who go for the OTAs.
What the GfK findings suggest is that Japanese leisure travellers are using OTAs as a search engine rather than a buying platform. A half-full take on this is that the OTAs have the traffic, all they need to do is start converting.
Meanwhile, the traditional agents are seeing more of their business coming online. The breakdown between existing offline customers going digital and OTA-searchers opting to book somewhere familiar is not known.
Late last year Euromonitor International said that online travel sales in Japan were likely to grow by 18% a year until 2018 compared with the market growth rate of 1%.
It also noted that high-street agents such as market leader JTB Corp are shifting “from the brick-and-mortar travel retail model to an online travel retail model".
Online travel will grow in Japan, that is not in doubt. The question is whether travellers in the world's third largest economy will shun the global OTAs in favour of the local, established agents.
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