A feature documenting the early years of the online travel industry.
How does Orbitz, the controversial new Web site owned by five major airlines, stack up to its competitors? Not badly. Not badly at all. I tested Orbitz against three other travel sites - Expedia, Travelocity and Sidestep - on four city pairs. Result: Orbitz won one of the searches hands-down and tied with Sidestep for the other. Travelocity and Sidestep took top honors for the other queries.
This week's online travel news, as cartoonist Walt Kelly might have put it, is us. Not only is this column ending after more than five years of covering the interactive travel business. So is its competitor, The Industry Standard's Tech Traveler newsletter. When you consider the anemic demand for travel-related information in general, you're left to wonder if the battle between commerce and content hasn't been won. Should the likes of Morris Dye, Michael Shapiro and me just pack our bags and go back to writing puff pieces and how-to books? Should travel Web sites discard the rest of their news operations in favor of ads, as two prominent travel dot-coms recently did? Maybe not.
eGulliver's travels ended swiftly last Friday when the money ran out. Seems one of the Atlanta quasi-agency's investors got spooked by online travel's Lilliputian returns and withdrew funding, bringing the site's voyage to a sudden and unceremonious end. There goes another one. You can't help but feel like an orderly in a Dutch retirement home these days.
What's in a name? If you're LastMinuteTravel.com, just about everything. That would explain the lengths to which the Atlanta travel site has gone to protect its moniker. LastMinuteTravel.com trademarked not only its name, URL and motto, "Just Released Offers. Just Go," but guarded its rights with an uncommon vigilance. Consider what happened last month on the heels of several reports that suggested the market for spontaneous travel would take off. Competitor Priceline.com promptly declared itself the "home" of last-minute travel in an effort to capitalize on the emerging trend.
Nothing in the online travel business is as predictable as the annual spring-cleaning ritual. Every March, without fail, some of the best-known brands in our business give their electronic storefronts a once-over. But this year, things are different. The redesigns are still happening. Even the most casual observer will notice the new graphics, the subtle changes in background color, or the fresh logos that are popping up like crocuses all over the Web. However, the superficial alterations distract us from the more substantial changes that are taking place in the industry.
This is not a story about Orbitz. This is not a story about how the Chicago-based company is going to change the way we buy travel. If it were, then there would be a carefully scripted quote from chairman Jeffrey Katz, or at the very least, a sound bite from one of the dot-com's proactive publicists. But there isn't. Instead, this is about how the online travel industry is reacting to Orbitz. Overreacting, some might say.
Two cancellations didn't kill it. Neither could a horde of furious suppliers or the flames of a thousand angry readers. As improbable as it would seem, this column - the Energizer Bunny of online travel - turns five this week. Hard to believe, isn't it? This feature was there at almost the very beginning, documenting the rise of Internet travel, profiling the personalities behind the sites and analyzing the industry before there were industry analysts. And it's a survivor.