Online travel growth expected to slow 2009 and 2014.

The number of U.S. customers booking trips online won’t change much over the next few years, according to a Forrester Research report published this week.The number of Americans booking online will increase just 3.5% between 2009 and 2014, according to the report. The lack of growth may force companies to automate more of their operations for greater efficiencies, Forrester said.For instance, OTAs can save costs by creating systems allowing customers to cancel, add a name to a reservation, print receipt copies and filter hotel availability to accommodate special requests, according to the report.{{more}}”The biggest implication of travel e-business’ maturity is that travel e-business professionals must focus on how to better please their current customers, as they can no longer count on a steady stream of new online buyers,” Harteveldt wrote.Meanwhile, expect online consumers to continue to spend less, said Forrester. U.S. spending on online leisure travel fell slightly last year and won’t exceed 2008 levels until 2011, Forrester said.Lower spending combined with a maturing industry will prevent a rebound hoped for by online travel professionals.”The travel industry battled one of the most challenging selling environments it has faced in 70 years last year,” wrote Henry Harteveldt, senior analyst at Forrester.”Hesitant consumers [in 2010] will force travel suppliers to buy customer volume with discounts, which in turn means that leisure and unmanaged business travelers’ offline and online spending will actually be below 2009 levels.”The report echoes a November study from PhoCusWright saying that U.S. bookings by OTAs would likely fall in 2009 for the first time ever. PhoCusWright said the combination of a slumping travel industry and a maturing online segment would cause a drop in airline and hotel reservations.While online agencies’ share of the approximately $230 billion expected to be spent on U.S. travel was forecast to rise about 2 percentage points to 15%, agency bookings were estimated to have fallen 3% last year to about $35 billion, PhoCusWright said in the report.

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