Mega-Travel Site Delays Launch

Controversial online travel venture Orbitz announced Friday that it is delaying the launch of its Web site until next summer.

“A phased-in launch that includes a monster beta test will ensure that Orbitz can handle the transaction volume and deliver the reliability and service levels consumers deserve,” said Orbitz chairman and president Jeffrey Katz.

Complaints Made Early

First announced late last year as a joint effort headed by American Airlines, United Airlines, Northwest Airlines, Continental Airlines and Delta Air Lines, the air travel Web site is backed by a total of 30 airline companies. Before receiving its official name, Orbitz was known informally as “T2” or “Travelocity Terminator,” a reference to chief competitor Travelocity.com.

The proposed site drew fire from the American Society of Travel Agents (ATSA) before it even had a name.

In a complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), the ATSA said that the new discount travel company would result in unfair competition to online and offline travel companies. The DOJ and the Department of Transportation (DOT) are currently investigating the questions raised.

The U.S. Senate Commerce Committee held hearings on Internet issues in the aviation industry in July, including the issues surrounding Orbitz.

Orbitz’ Katz told the Committee, “We represent new competition, using state-of-the-art technology, in a revolutionary effort to present Internet customers what they want: comprehensive and unbiased travel information. Consumers deserve to have more choice and competition than just two major players in Internet travel.”

Test Pilots

Orbitz claims that its upcoming beta test, set to begin in February 2001, will be the “one of the largest online beta tests ever undertaken.”

Katz said that the Orbitz beta test will include at least 100,000 registered consumers, who will provide feedback on site features and functionality.

In the initial phase, consumers will only be able to book flights through the site, but the options will be expanded in April 2001 to allow beta-testers to purchase car, hotel, cruise and vacation packages online.

If testing goes as planned, Orbitz will go live in June 2001.

“Research shows consumers don’t trust existing travel sites that dominate the Web today to show them the best fares and travel arrangements,” said Katz.

Lining Up Partners

In addition to laying out its launch schedule, Orbitz also announced a host of partnerships with travel services and content providers. Advantage Rent-A-Car and Hertz have signed on to provide Orbitz customers with access to their Web-only rental car rates.

Orbitz customers will be able to book cruises with eight international cruise lines through National Leisure Group (NLG), of Woburn, Massachusetts. Under the terms of the agreement, NLG will be the exclusive reseller of cruise services to Orbitz, and Orbitz visitors will have access to 80 percent of all cruise berths, the company said.

Orbitz has also signed on several content providers: Accuweather, an online provider of weather content; Lonely Planet, publishers of guidebooks for independent travelers; MapQuest, an AOL subsidiary that provides online mapping services; OANDA, which provides currency conversion; and Zagat Survey, which provides restaurant and lodging guides.

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