United and Delta Extend Direct E-Commerce Initiatives

Top air carriers United Airlines and Delta Air Lines significantly expanded their Web presence by announcing new consumer and corporate e-commerce travel services this week.

United will partner with broadband provider On2.com to offer e-commerce, travel information and television-quality travel videos, while Delta’s redesigned consumer Web site will feature an online corporate purchasing function.

Delta also announced an online travel agency service center that is scheduled to roll out in March.

Growing Web Usage

The moves by United and Delta come as consumers turn increasingly to the Web for travel information and airline flights, hotel rooms and rental cars. A Travel Industry Association of America (TIA) report claims that 52.2 million Americans used the Internet to plan travel last year, with 16.5 million actually booking and paying for travel online.

Forrester Research projects that by 2003, 26 million North American households will have used the Web to book travel. Forrester also projects that U.S. corporate travel services bookings will reach $38 billion (US$) in two years.

United Taps On2.com for Broadband

United’s alliance with On2.com will leverage its direct e-commerce activities to consumer and corporate audiences, as both will develop and co-market e-commerce capabilities on the On2Network. Additionally, as part of the deal, United will take an equity interest in On2.com.

“The broadband Internet is a rapidly expanding frontier for the travel and e-commerce industries,” said Michael Cavanaugh, director of strategic planning, marketing and sales at United’s e-commerce division. “We see our alliance with On2.com as an investment in a new medium with limitless potential.”

Delta Enhances Site Based on Consumer Surveys

Delta said it redesigned and renamed its Web site based on consumer survey results. Delta claims that the site will provide quicker access to information in a streamlined, user-friendly format. New features include customer recognition, links, and quick click-throughs to popular reservations.

“Improving the user’s online experience was the primary catalyst to the redesign,” said Bill Reeves, Delta’s general manager of e-commerce. “We’ve not only made it easier for consumers to find information important to their travel needs, but we also are setting the stage for a more personalized experience at our Web site.”

Response to Corporate Prompting

Delta has also launched a site to facilitate corporate purchasing. The move apparently was prompted by corporations that want potential savings associated with streamlined online procurement. According to the company, the new corporate site is currently in beta testing with select corporations.

Delta reported that the site offers corporate travelers the ability to link to and apply their specific corporate sales agreements by using their SkyMiles account numbers directly from their personal computers. The site will recognize corporate discount fares as well as lowest published fares for which the user qualifies.

Delta Strives to Maintain Ties with Agencies

Even as Delta launches direct consumer and corporate initiatives that sell tickets directly to markets that were traditionally serviced by travel agencies, the company is also planning an Online Agency Service Center to provide services to agencies.

“Travel agencies are working with Delta, along with its technology subsidiary Delta Technology, strongly influencing the site’s services and content,” said Steve Scheper, Delta’s general manager of agency and corporate program development.

“We expect this business-to-business online site will yield mutual benefits through process improvements similar to those experienced in many other industries leveraging the efficiencies of the Internet.”

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