September 01, 2002
Meetings & Conventions: Newsline newsline.gif (8042 bytes)   BRICK-AND-MORTAR CORPORATE TRAVEL FIRMS TRY TO STAVE OFF ONLINE COMPETITORS
Booking Wars Spur New Services
Richard Spradling Online travel booking sites Expedia and Orbitz, having caused some upheaval among leisure travel agencies, now are aggressively targeting the business travel market. Their efforts have resulted in a flurry of new services from traditional rivals who realize they must change or perish.

On July 15, Orbitz debuted Orbitz for Business, a new Web site offering a range of inducements, including low fares and transaction costs and various tracking services, in an effort to woo corporate travel planners away from brick-and-mortar partners.

The initial response has been positive. Within only two weeks of the site’s introduction, Orbitz had sent out 60 contracts, said a company spokesperson.

Also in July, Expedia revealed plans to acquire Metropolitan Travel Inc., a Seattle-based corporate travel agency, to provide person-to-person travel management along with discounted Web fares. With the two Web firms on the offensive, several traditional agencies for the first time are offering online booking options, often through partnerships with providers.

" Carlson Wagonlit Travel in Louisville, Ky., now offers corporate clients self-booking tools so users can make reservations and access data via the Internet. Those interfaces are tied into the agency’s management system to allow tracking of individual travelers.

" New York City-based American Express Corporate Services debuted several services this summer, including TravelBahn Gateway, which gives travel managers access to four major GDS systems as well as Web-only fares, and a corporate online booking tool called American Express CTO.

" St. Louis-based Maritz Travel Co. is offering its own forms of Web-based travel reservation technology. In July, the company announced two new search engines for managing Web fares, and this fall, Maritz plans to roll out an enhanced risk management service providing real-time safety updates for 160 countries.

“Online booking is something we fully support; 15 to 20 percent of our clients are using online systems,” said Richard Spradling, corporate vice president, information technology, for TQ3 Maritz Travel Solutions.

Adapting to change is the only way these agencies will survive, according to Bruce Tepper, vice president of San Francisco-based consulting firm Joselyn, Tepper & Associates Inc. “Those attempting to compete in a traditional manner by offering OK service and trying to compete on price will fail,” he predicted.


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