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6.7 million adults use the Internet for travel reservations
From Travel Industry Association of America  

Online travel explosion reveals secrets of e-commerce success
From ZDNet  

Study: expect shakeout in online travel
From CNET  

Net travel industry booming, but surfers are fickle
From CNET  

A fast takeoff for airline sites
From The Industry Standard  

New territory for Net travel
From CNET  

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With Internet penetration increasing, the price of PCs getting lower, and payment becoming more secure, it's easy to see why online travel is set to boom.

Couple that with the ability of online providers to offer discounts of up to 70 percent off tickets and rooms, and the value proposition for the Net client gets immeasurably stronger.

But for companies like ATN, and TravelAsiaNet, there's still a long road ahead. To lead in a vertical web market--and one as convoluted as the travel trade--companies will constantly need to differentiate themselves from the masses. As in so many of the Web battles being waged, without the ability to claim technological superiority, sites will have to distinguish themselves by quickly building a core consumer base.

Singapore's AsiaTravel, for example, already touts itself as the biggest in the region. It advertises over 1,000 hotels and resorts, with up to 75 percent discount off published rates for online reservation, including air ticketing, transfer services, sightseeing and tour packages to assist in travel planning.

So the game is on for those with the fleetest of feet.

Yet despite the clear advantages of booking trips online, many offline companies hesitate to approach the new medium, preferring a wait-and-see approach.

One successful travel agent in Singapore remarked recently that the Internet "was just a fad", and said there was "no way it would ever threaten his business".

Nevertheless, despite the naysayers, it still seems clear that there might remain a place for both on- and offline players.

ATN, for example, offers an "agent edition" which allows any Internet user, say, a travel agent in Johannesburg, to become a partner of ATN by plugging into ATN's office management system. This means companies like ATN are in a position to increase their ticket-selling reach to more countries at minimal cost.

For now, no one is really sure how the industry will pan out. But with tremendous clutter and precious little substance, providers of Web services have their work cut out for them to provide unique selling propositions. Chief among them are enabling technologies, marketing savvy and muscle, as well as having the pulling power to acquire or merge with smaller niche players to increase product spread and reach.

Competition is considerable and diverse. On one end of the scale are major companies like American Express and Microsoft. On the other end is an infinite array of smaller specialist sites and service sites of traditional players of the travel trade, such as airlines, hotels, car rental services and travel agencies.

But in an industry where price and convenience matter above all else, it seems the only certain beneficiary will be the traveler. And, that much-vaunted issue of "disintermediation" may well turn out to be a myth, as industry players begin to realize the benefits of combining on- and offline partners.



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