Traffic spikes at travel sites

By Kathleen Ohlson, Computer World |  Business

The summer travel season has started in earnest online, with overall travel site activity shooting up from 8.3 million visitors in April to 13.1 million visitors in May, according to a special report on the state of Internet travel by Nielsen NetRatings.

Nielsen NetRatings said the most successful sites have evolved from just offering online tickets for airlines and hotels "to become full-service, one-stop travel services that can take care of both business and vacation travel."

Travelocity ranked first with the most visitors (2.29 million), followed by Preview Travel (2.27 million) and MSN Expedia (1.9 million), said Nielsen Media Research and NetRatings Inc.'s Internet measurement service. These top three sites have become so popular and have added so many services that any newcomers will have a lot of work to do, said Peggy O'Neill, an analyst at NetRatings in Milpitas, Calif.

For example, Travelocity's business has grown in excess of 100% per year, spending "more time and energy on offering vacation packages than just tickets," said Jim Marsicano, senior vice president and general manager at Travelocity.com. He declined to give the exact traffic figures for the quarter, which ended this week, but said, "Everybody here has a big smile on their face." Travelocity's summer efforts include special vacation packages, such as trips to London or Paris on which couples can save $150, Marsicano said.

Other study conclusions include the following:

  • There's still room for improvement for the Internet travel industry, such as more intuitive user interfaces, better customer service and faster Web site speeds.

  • Self-service on the Web doesn't bode well for traditional travel agents. But the Web can benefit travel agencies that use it as an informational tool to search for special deals and other services faster, O'Neill said.
  • Corporate travelers are more difficult for the Internet travel industry, and sites must design their offerings to cater to this group. For example, include in a hotel write-up if rooms are wired for Internet access.
  • Travel sites will be different a year from now, furnished with more communities, better and more integrated customer service and more personalization, among other features.
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