No, Orbitz isn’t dead, dying or even feeling a bit unwell. But the Orbitz tempest, which seemed to be shaping into an antitrust battle of Microsoft-like proportions at one time, is no longer the storm it once was.
In fact, the Orbitz story couldn’t buy its way onto page one or even the business front page of most publications these days. Why? The story has long outlived the American attention span, to be sure.
Even so, it’s still as complicated as they come, replete with gray areas. When parties on both sides of an issue can legitimately claim victory based on the same report, the issue is anything but cut and dried.
However, it’s true that the subject of the pitched battle — control of the online travel sector — is no longer the prize it once was. People are still going to make heaps of cash in this space, but it stopped being the next big thing a while ago.
For all of those reasons and more, Orbitz went from headline news to headline snooze. Publicity machines on both sides of the issue still churn out hype from time to time, and the government agencies that are supposed to be reviewing the matter occasionally give notice that they are, indeed, still working on it. But the urgency is gone.
Orbitz isn’t in any rush to hold its long-discussed IPO, and the combatants in the travel industry are probably happy to sock away the money they otherwise would have spent on lawyers and spin-meisters for use toward the bottom line.
But who benefits from the fact that Orbitz has fallen off the front page, if not the radar screen itself?
The heat was certainly on Orbitz, so it is strange that everyone seems to have a bad case of amnesia about what a big, scary monster it was supposed to be.
As a refresher, Orbitz was formed by major airlines to, some say, cut middlemen and their profits out of the online reservation equation. Competitors were quick to pounce on some details of the company’s agreements with airlines, which they said made it impossible for others to offer the same fares. Orbitz has always countered that other online sites have similar language in their agreements.
The Orbitz case always seemed fairly cut-and-dried in some ways. The airlines held all the power, and the consumer seemed destined to lose at least some choices, if not the ability to get lower fares — something else both sides have pretty much agreed to disagree on.
Maybe the long period of relative quiet can lead to a detente of sorts, a mutually agreed-upon, if tense, peace in the name of not screwing up whatever momentum the online travel sector still has left.
But probably not. A more likely scenario is that the Orbitz debate will drag on for years, with an eventual resolution that is so run-of-the-mill we’ll all wonder what the fuss was about.
Note: The opinions expressed by our columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the E-Commerce Times or its management.