Orbitz, the airline-owned Web travel service that was going to
teach us a thing or two about technology, e-commerce, airline
cooperation and "unbiased" service, had something to say last week
that will sound familiar to everybody in the airline community:
"There will be a slight delay."
The service won't be up and running this fall as planned. Orbitz
will need a few more months -- nine, to be exact. Orbitz said it
decided to take the time to do it right, which prompts us to ask,
"What was the previous plan? To do it wrong?"
The real question today, however, is whether it's better for the
trade to have a bad Orbitz now or a better Orbitz later. So we
asked ourselves, is this good for agents or bad for agents? We are
of two minds. It's:
Good, because it gives the government more time to find a reason
to put the kibosh on the thing, but Bad, because it increases the
chances that Orbitz will, indeed, get it right, but that's
Good, because agents are moving away from money-losing air-only
transactions anyway, but Bad, because Orbitz also will offer
bookings for hotel rooms and rental cars, and some of that business
will be diverted from traditional agencies, so it's
Good that it will be happening later rather than sooner, but Bad
that the owners will use that extra time to raise another $100
million in capital to get it off the ground.
In the meantime, however, as this Web site reported on Aug. 2, agents are already finding
uses for the ITA fare-search software that will power Orbitz.
In the space of nine months, a lot of things will happen on the
Web, and some of them may turn out to have a bigger impact on our
business than Orbitz.
Given its considerable resources, we suspect that Orbitz will
eventually succeed, but we do not for a minute believe that this,
by itself, means that everyone else will fail.