Until recently, US rental car chains were failing to persuade customers to book directly through their "brand.com" websites instead of through online travel agencies.
But new research suggests that companies such as Avis, Enterprise, and Hertz are finally clawing back market share from the middlemen, duplicating the direct channel success of other travel suppliers, such as airlines and hotels.
Branded rental car websites saw 17.4% growth in average bookings during the past year, according to data from Adobe Site Catalyst, a Web analytics tool used by most consumer travel companies to measure both traffic and conversions. That compares to a 13% gain for online travel agencies.
The data comes from a sampling of user visits by Adobe Digital Index, a division of software maker Adobe that sells website marketing services, and HeBS Digital, a vendor of online marketing services.
The data dovetails with statistics from the largest US-based car rental chains. For instance, Hertz told Tnooz that its year-to-date visits to hertz.com through July are up about 20% and that hertz.com recently became the corporation's single largest channel for reservations, processing 9.6 million reservations last calendar year -- with 29% of the company's US reservations coming through hertz.com.
Late last year Hertz added a responsive design to hertz.com to make it look better on tablets. Last year 12% of its site visitors arrived from mobile devices.
Other major chains Tnooz spoke with reported similar gains. But none of the companies revealed their conversion rates. The HeBS/Adobe research offers a rare estimate of that growth.
Jason Price, executive vice president at HeBS Digital, says that the percentage of return shoppers to car rental sites, a metric often equated with larger revenue per visitor, is up a percentage point in the past year. Price adds:
"As qualified traffic to car rental sites increases, so, too, will conversion rates."
Overall, car rental sites experienced more bookings growth in their direct channel websites percentage-wise than airline, hotel, travel agency, cruise line, or casino companies through April 2013, though HeBS Digital admits the category is growing from a comparatively smaller base.
The trend in direct bookings on travel sites seems to be part of a broader emerging narrative about the resurgent power of brand in digital travel. The rising impatience of consumers and growing popularity of metasearch sites are giving more leverage to "brand.com" sites.