Travelocity, Galileo make business travel plays

Two travel Web sites are taking steps to get business customers to make their travel plans online.

Travelocity.com opened a business travel section on its market-leading leisure travel Web site.

The move comes one day after Rosemont, Ill.-based computer reservations giant Galileo International Inc. debuted TravelGalileo.com, which will put brick-and-mortar travel agencies online to service business and leisure customers.

Both moves help to fill what has been perceived in the travel industry as a gap in online business travel services. At last week's eTravelWorld Conference in Orlando, analysts said few companies use online booking tools and that the market for such services remains wide open.

The biggest player in that space is currently the merged offering of Fort Worth, Texas-based Sabre Holdings Corp. and Menlo Park, Calif.-based GetThere Inc (see story).

However, during speeches at the conference, Richard Barton, CEO of Bellevue, Wash.-based online travel agency Expedia Inc., and Jeffrey Katz, president and CEO of the yet-to-be-launched airline-backed travel Web site Orbitz, both said they expect competitors to pour into the business travel market.

Travelocity was born inside the walls at Sabre, and its booking tools will allow smaller businesses to access preferred airline and group booking tools currently available to the larger Sabre/GetThere customer base.

Krista Pappas, director of travel analysis at Gomez Advisors Inc. in Lincoln, Mass., said the Travelocity initiative makes sense in that more structured systems will have difficulty reaching travelers in smaller corporations.

Galileo's move takes advantage of its historical ties to brick-and-mortar travel agencies. The agencies will now be able to provide their traditional over-the-counter service through Galileo's fiber.

Pappas said one of the chief difficulties in providing business travel is the increased demand for customer service and the maintenance of long-term relationships -- two areas in which bricks-and-mortar agencies typically excel.

IDC senior analyst Joshua Friedman released a report two weeks ago predicting that brick-and-mortar agencies collectively will come to dominate the market when they gain a greater amount of Internet savvy to mix with their travel expertise.

Pappas said the pace of change is still slow but that Travelocity and Galileo are major players in the travel technology game that can't be ignored.

"Yes, they are testing the waters, but they clearly have the back-end systems to support future growth," she said.

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