Not only are Americans flying less as the economy tanks, they’re spending less time scouting the Internet for travel deals, creating an unprecedented drop in traffic for online travel agencies like Orbitz, Travelocity and Expedia. As consumer confidence reached historic lows in October, the volume of visitors to Web travel portals declined 14 percent, year over year, to 38.2 million, according to ComScore Inc. Web traffic fell for nearly every major airline site.
Hardest hit were the three online powerhouses that have dominated bookings for much of this decade. Web traffic at Expedia Inc. sites plunged 25 percent, to 18.2 million visitors, while Travelocity.com LP and Orbitz saw 16 percent and 23 percent drops, respectively.
The falloff in traffic was unparalleled for the three online agencies, which grew by leaps and bounds during the economic slowdown that followed the Sept. 11 attacks as many consumers for the first time turned to the Internet to unearth bargains.
Anticipating tougher times ahead, Orbitz last month announced plans to reduce its U.S. workforce by 10 percent by the end of the year. After dodging the effects of sky-high fuel prices during the first half of the year, airlines, hotels, rental car companies and tour operators are struggling with a steep and sudden drop-off in demand from both corporate and leisure travelers.
“What’s happening in 2008 is a universal buckling down,” said Sara Stevens, a vice president and head of the travel and retail practices for Virginia-based ComScore, a market research firm that tracks Internet traffic.