When it comes to booking holidays online, women are on top. And rooting out bargains and imaginative getaways are their speciality. Mark MacKenzie reports on the gender gap

With the sales in full swing, a trip to your local high street can be a dangerous business. Step through the doors of any major retailer and it's every man, woman and child for themselves as Britain's bargain hunter-gatherers succumb to their more primitive instincts. It's enough to drive anyone to daydreams of sunkissed beaches, and from there to mouse and screen and holiday sites online - especially if you're female. For, according to the results of one survey, unveiled last week, it is women who wear the trousers when browsing for and booking trips on the internet.

Last month, a survey of 1,000 UK internet users found that, of bookings made by mixed-sex couples, almost 60 per cent were carried out by women, with no input from partners. Of these, around half of female respondents claimed to have done so at the request of their other halves and in recognition of their superior web skills.

"It is interesting to find that women are the dominant decision makers when it comes to booking holidays [online]," says Alison Couper, director of communications for Hotels.com, a booking specialist covering more than 31,000 hotels worldwide and the company behind the survey. "That said, men are much quicker off the mark when it comes to decision-making." Of those men questioned, most took two or three days to choose a break while women spent up to two weeks planning their trip.

It is a trend common among online and offline consumers, according to Chris Lake, editor of e-consultancy, an e-commerce research organisation. "Previous research in Canada," he says, "has categorised women as 'keeners' [keen to shop] and men as 'slackers', waiting until the last minute to make a purchase." But common to both sexes, adds Mr Lake, is the popularity of online booking among those booking at short notice, typically four weeks before departure.

Hotels.com's research came in the same week that the consumer group Which? raised concerns about a lack of transparent pricing in holiday brochures. Warning of the additional charges that lie in wait in the small print of many brochures, examples of so-called hidden costs include those for customers sitting together on flights and supplements for under-occupied rooms. While online pricing has its own transparency problems, as reported here two weeks ago, the advice of the watchdog was to seek genuine bargains on the web. So might women be better placed to exploit these?

"In terms of overall internet usage among men and women," explains Mr Lake, "the numbers are roughly the same. Figures from the European Interactive Advertising Association [EIAA] suggest that, on average, men spend about 11 hours online per week, women around nine. What's interesting is that the EIAA predicts 2007 will be the first year women's usage overtakes that of men."

Mr Lake adds that while it remains a relatively new area, it is possible that gender considerations might have a role to play in shaping the design of travel websites. "Any site that wants to be successful has to offer navigation that is intuitive," he says, "although this is relevant to men and women. Making sites interactive has been a huge growth area for travel sites in recent years, particularly offering customers the opportunity to post reviews online." The evidence for who contributes what remains anecdotal, he says, but some industry commentators suggest women are three times more likely to contribute a review, particularly after a bad holiday experience.

One area where men and women seem to concur is in their choice of break. Of the women questioned by Hotels.com, 35 per cent said relaxing by the pool was their ideal getaway, a figure echoed by the 25 per cent of men who opted for a quiet villa. Of those men who left both the research and booking of a holiday to their other halves, at least 2 per cent had the good grace to confess it was because their partner was paying for it.

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