t was former ASTA president Mike Spinelli who said, "Internet, schminternet." At the time, it was said that some consumers would go on the Web and look, but few would book. Later, it was said that more consumers would go on the Web and look, and some would book simple stuff, the occasional "commodity airline ticket" or hotel room.

Now it is said that many consumers are going on the Web to look, and many of them are booking and some of them are booking a lot.

Need to sound off?
Click the image above to send an e-mail to TW. Your letter could run in a future issue!

The latest report from the Travel Industry Association contains some sobering data for the brick-and-mortar side of travel distribution. In its annual survey of e-travelers, TIA found that 59 million people went on line for trip-planning information last year, and 42% actually bought some travel on line. That's 25 million on-line travel buyers in 2000, a number that nearly quintupled in four years.

This is good news for consumers who think they have simplified their lives and/or saved money. It's good news for suppliers who think the same thing.

Is it good news for travel agents? The simple and most common answer is still "hardly," but life and business are usually more complicated than that. The Internet is clearly here to stay, but so is the schminternet factor.

Some of this on-line business would never have gone through an agency anyway, such as the family in the minivan looking for motels on the way to Grandma's house. Some of the business is no longer welcome at travel agencies -- the $99 airline ticket comes to mind. And some of that on-line business is going through on-line travel agencies.

And an awful lot of the $13 billion worth of travel that was sold on the Web last year was sold at a loss, judging from the financial reports of Travelocity, Expedia and many others whose ones and zeros have been uploaded to that great file server in the sky.

JDS Travel News JDS Viewpoints JDS Africa/MI