In an effort to reach the 85 percent of consumers who do not yet buy travel online, Orbitz has announced it will make its airfares available to travel agents.
The company will work with Aqua Software Products, a unit of Navigant International, to provide travel agents with direct desktop access to its fares and its online search engine, starting in August.
With Orbitz’ technology, agents will be able to search 2 billion fares on 455 airlines, the companies said.
Eventually, the Orbitz database will work in conjunction with Aqua’s Global Distribution Systems, used by many corporate and consumer travel agents to book trips. Orbitz said this integration will allow corporate travel agents to book flights on Orbitz while still receiving the volume discounts they often negotiate directly with airlines.
Orbitz is following a well-worn path to travel agents’ desktops. Both Travelocity and Expedia, the company’s two main competitors in terms of number of visitors, have unveiled deals to merge their listings with those already provided by airlines to travel agents.
“Online travel is growing much faster than the travel sector overall, but there are still a lot of consumers who don’t go online to buy or even to research, so that type of a move makes sense,” Nielsen//NetRatings analyst Lisa Strand told the E-Commerce Times.
The companies noted that additional fees charged to travel agents for booking through traditional means have prompted airlines to sell discounted fares directly to consumers online. In fact, Orbitz has been repeatedly criticized for listing Web-only fares offered by the airlines that back the site.
“The vast majority of airline discounts are available on Orbitz,” Aqua president Mark Ferguson noted.
The offline deal came shortly after Orbitz announced that its reservation and booking engine will be used to run the American Airlines Web site, AA.com.
That alliance is part of Orbitz’ plan to license its technology — an approach that has proved successful for other e-commerce companies, such as eBay and Amazon.com.
Meanwhile, published reports have speculated that Orbitz may be considering an initial public offering, possibly as soon as the third quarter of this year. Such a move might help alleviate some of the antitrust concerns that have plagued the site since its inception by opening up its business practices and financials to more public scrutiny.
Orbitz continues to face government probes of its operations. Both the U.S. Department of Transportation and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) have opened investigations into the company. Last month, two dozen members of Congress called for a stepped-up DOJ investigation.
The company has maintained that antitrust talk is being fueled by its competitors in the fiercely competitive online travel sector.