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There's a reason millions of people visit general travel sites -- one-stop shopping (last of three parts).
As you read in parts one and two of this series, airline and hotel Web sites provide a lot of loyalty-building, value-added features to encourage customers to book directly through their sites. But what do the all-in-one travel sites do to encourage users to bypass the hotel and airline sites?
Sabre Holdings launched Travelocity in March 1996, and it now is the nation's sixth largest travel agency. On an average day, the site has 13.8 million page views. Travelocity has sold more than 40 million airline tickets since launch, and booked almost $4 billion in travel in 2003. But despite all that traffic, the site still operates in the red -- although Travelocity expects to finally turn a profit later this year.
The key advantage to using a general travel site, says Susan McLaughlin, Travelocity's vice president of marketing, is the ability to comparison-shop a multitude of air fares, hotel room rates, car rentals, cruises and vacations across a wide variety of suppliers.
"Consumers know all of their options in the marketplace via a single source, saving them time in the planning process," McLaughlin says. "We also alert consumers to alternate travel dates and airports that might afford them savings."
Travelocity uses a lot of interactive bells and whistles to snare customers and get recurring business and revenue (all of the online travel sites charge a nominal service fee -- at Travelocity, it's $5 per ticket). Some of these include:
Several U.S. airlines formed Travelocity's chief competitor, Orbitz, in June 2001 to gain more control over the rapidly-growing online travel industry. Orbitz says it is one of the top three online travel companies (Forbes.com ranked it the number one travel site in August 2003). Its online inventory comprises 455 airlines, 45,000 lodging properties and 23 rental car companies, as well as vacation packagers and cruise lines.
Maryellen Thielen, corporate and financial communications director for Orbitz, says its search engine is one of the most important features that have contributed to her company's growth. It enables travelers to search more than 2 billion fares and flights in seconds, using search algorithm technology.
"Other online travel sites might offer 10 to 30 fare and flight choices. We can show literally hundreds of options to the same destination, because we rely on inexpensive commodity servers instead of mainframe computers, which enable us to cost-effectively handle a massive volume of data," Thielen says.
Last year, Orbitz enhanced its search engine with three new features:
But whether it's an airline site, a hotel site or a general travel site, the ultimate objective is to make the experience as frictionless for the traveler as possible.
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