CONSUMERS find creating their own summer break confusing and time consuming, despite the growth of the internet as a booking option.
That's the verdict of a survey published last week by the Co-operative Travel Trading Group after the Group pitted members of the public against its own staff and challenged both groups to source the best deals on a number of popular holiday destinations.
Consumers were asked to search for breaks suitable for a family of four or two adults from a variety of UK airports to some of Europe's most popular destinations such as Majorca, Cyprus and Gran Canaria.
They identified three key problems when using the internet:
? The bottomless pit: "How many sites do I search before I know I've got the best deal?"
? The time trial: "It just eats up the hours!"
? Form-phobia: "One wrong click and I have to start the booking process all over again."
The consumers were given the same brief as the travel agents and asked to stop searching only when they felt that they had the best deal they could piece together independently within 24 hours.
The members of the public who took part in the exercise were allowed to use the internet or other holiday sources such as Teletext.
The results showed that consumers failed to match the low deals secured by CTTG agents in over half the trials ? despite being allowed to trawl as many websites or other independent sources as possible.
While most of the experts took less than 15 minutes to find their best price, the average time spent trawling the internet by the members of the public was 111 minutes. The longest time spent online was over four hours, while the shortest time spent searching was 40 minutes.
As well as struggling to secure the lowest prices, the consumers ? who all chose to use the internet above additional sources such as Teletext ? complained that the online process was often confusing, long-winded, repetitive and restrictive.
Many noted that they would prefer to use the internet for reference and then use this research to book with a travel agent.
Additional research of 1,000 would-be holiday-makers carried out by CTTG also highlighted consumer attitudes to package deals.
It revealed that:
? Almost half (49 per cent) believed that package holidays booked via a travel agent were always cheapest.
? 40 per cent of those questioned had tried to put together their holiday independently in the past ? 60 per cent stuck with package deals.
? Out of the 33 per cent that felt holidays packaged online or separately were cheapest, 34 per cent said that flexibility was the key to cutting the cost.
Mike Greenacre, chief operating officer of CTTG explained: "We didn't set out to prove that travel agents were cheaper or that the internet or self packaging was quicker. We simply wanted to investigate whether the travel agent's job can be matched by anyone with a computer and access to the internet.
"If this were the case you would have expected the independently packaged holiday to be quick and simple to put together cheaply every time.
"There's no doubt that the internet and the ability for consumers to self package has revolutionised the travel industry, but it does have a downside in that there are now so many travel sites that it is very difficult for all but the most experienced surfer to determine whether they have actually secured the lowest possible deal online.
"Our research highlighted that it is possible to spend hours searching to piece together all of the elements of your holiday when an independent travel agent with access to availability from all of the major tour operators can find you the best deal in minutes ? a key factor for many busy consumers.
"This explodes the myth that the traditional package holiday booked with a travel agent is dying out. Independently packaging your holiday via the internet or other sources is a fantastic option if you want flexibility or enjoy hunting around for something a little different ? but when it comes to the main summer break, the package holiday still takes some beating."