Nielsen: Online Travel Surges

The number of people who used online travel sites in November rose 13 percent year-over-year to 68 million, Nielsen//NetRatings said yesterday in its holiday e-spending report, done in conjunction with Goldman Sachs and Harris Interactive. Consumers spent $919 million online for travel during that month, according to Nielsen--up 11 percent from $828 million in November '03. This spike is attributed to record travel numbers, since Christmas and New Year's each fall on a weekend this year.

The report found that 23 percent of Americans, and 46 percent of all active Web users, visited a travel site in November. "The market is great, and customers are more comfortable with the Internet and are responding to incentives that companies are offering," said Heather Dougherty, senior retail analyst, Nielsen//NetRatings.

MapQuest, part of Time Warner Inc., ranked number one in online travel destinations in November, with 31 million unique visitors. Expedia followed, with 14 million visitors. Travelocity drew 11 million Web surfers, and Orbitz.com and Southwest Airlines made the top five, with 11 million and 7 million unique visitors, respectively.

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Much of the online travel spending stemmed from lower- to upper-middle-class households, according to Dougherty. Households with incomes of $50,000 to $74,999 made up 28 percent, or the largest group of online travel visitors, during November. Those households with incomes of $25,000 to $49,999 made up 20 percent of online travel visitors. A close third--online surfers with household incomes of $75,000 to $99,999--comprised 19 percent of those visiting online travel destinations.

Those living in household with incomes of $75,000 or more tended to favor brand-specific travel Web sites over any other category of travel sites, while those earning $75,000 or less tended toward multi-category travel sites such as Expedia and Travelocity for comparison shopping.

"The really interesting thing going on in travel is the contest between online agencies like MapQuest and suppliers such as American Airlines who are finding that they can sell directly to consumers," commented Dougherty. "Agencies serve a purpose, but suppliers are making more of an effort to cut out the middlemen."

World air travel has recovered well from the 9/11-triggered recession, Airbus, the European civil aircraft maker, said Wednesday.

Separately, Nielsen tallied the top ten advertisers during the month of November, ranked by impressions and based on data from AdRelevance, Nielsen's advertising research service. First was Netflix, Inc., with 2,188,890 impressions served. Following was LowerMyBills.com, Inc. with 2,074,115 and Dell Computer Corporation with 1,865,072. The only travel-related company to make the top 10 was Orbitz, with 1,020,835 impressions served.

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