Online travel bookings up

while the overall travel market encounters flat growth rates, online penetration continues to rise. , South Africa's biggest online travel price comparison and booking website, reports a 70percent increase in online travel sales for 2009.

Chief executive and founder of Travelstart Stephan Ekbergh says this state of affairs is a sure indication that, despite the economic challenges the world faces, online booking is becoming more popular among South African travellers.

"We are naturally very pleased with our growth here in South Africa and believe that we will see an even bigger increase in figures for 2010, not only because we will be hosting the 2010 World Cup, but also because South Africans are fast becoming more reliant on the Internet to research and plan travel."

Ekbergh says his company has seen a huge influx of new business from travellers who would normally have done their travel bookings at traditional high street travel agencies.

"Travellers are finding it more convenient and, in most cases, cheaper to research and compare flights, hotels and car rentals online. I predict that there will be no high street agencies left five years from now," Ekbergh says.

South Africa seems to be following the online travel booking trend of more established Internet markets such as the US and Western Europe.

In these markets, more than 40percent of all hospitality revenue is generated on the Internet. In the US, 84percent of travel research and planning is conducted online. The introduction of cheaper bandwidth locally will make the Internet more accessible to South Africans and this is expected to dramatically drive online sales.

Online agencies offer travellers the opportunity to instantly compare prices and itineraries for all airlines travelling specific routes. This allows travellers to act as their own travel agent.