BOSTON (TheStreet) -- Angry online travelers are starting to make protesters at town hall health care meetings look like Care Bears.
Forrester Research reports that 15% less travelers enjoyed using the Web to plan their trips in 2009 than two years earlier, mostly because only a third can immediately find what they're looking for once they get to the site. That's down from a dismal 39% who believed Web sites did a good job presenting travel choices in 2008.
Even worse, despite the nearly 50% of online travelers who prize low prices over convenience or even their preferred destination, 26% would consider costlier offline travel agencies just to remember what it's like to have someone ask them questions again. That's up 3% from 2008 and, considering that more than 75% have the brand loyalty of a mercenary army, the news for sites like Orbitz and Priceline.com (Stock Quote: PCLN) and carriers including Continental (Stock Quote: CAL), Delta (Stock Quote: DAL) and American (Stock Quote: AMR) is about as well-timed as a delayed flight.
"People want to make sure they're getting exactly what they want," says Henry Harteveldt, Forrester's vice president and principal analyst for airline and travel research and author of the report. "Travel Web sites just don't do a good job of this."
It didn't help matters when many of the 47% of U.S. travelers who said they planned to reduce their travel budgets this year and 44% who wanted to take fewer trips actually kept their word. Despite the fact that it was 7% cheaper to travel this year than in 2008, according to the U.S. Travel Association, domestic air travel dropped 10%, with international flights slumping 7.4%. They're not spending nights with InterContinental Hotels Group (Stock Quote: IHG), Wyndham Worldwide (Stock Quote: WYN) or Marriott (Stock Quote: MAR), either, as hotel-room demand has dropped more than 8% and room revenue has checked out at double that rate.
At a time when travel sites should be making it easier to access low rates and helpful features, they're either hiding useful information as if it were classified or eliminating it altogether. Harteveldt says common examples are hotel sites that tout a room's view in print but never show it in photos or video, or cruise Web sites that double their bookings by showing video, but banish the clips behind a veil of click-throughs and drop-downs.