Online travel: It's going to be bumpy
Online travel sites have room to grow even in a maturing market and a sluggish global economy. But no longer is the growth going to be across the board.
FORTUNE -- The past several years have been sluggish ones for the travel industry, and it's unlikely to get better: Fiscal uncertainty in the U.S., a sovereign debt crisis in Europe, economic slowdown in China. In the online-travel industry, the sluggishness is separating the strong companies from the weak.
A look at the stock performance of several online-travel companies shows their fates diverging. On the happier side, Expedia's (EXPE) stock is up 94% this year, while Priceline's (PCLN) is up 31%. Among the less fortunate: Orbitz's (OWW) stock is down 46% and Travelzoo's (TZOO) is down 32%. Since the web began to make online bookings available in the mid-1990s, online travel has grown to account for a third of the global travel market. This year, global online travel bookings are expected to reach $313 billion, according to PhoCusWright, a travel-industry research firm.
For most of that time, sites like Priceline, Expedia and privately held Travelocity stole market share away from offline travel agencies as well as airlines and hotel chains. During and after the recession of the late 2000s, that trend has continued with travel sites like Priceline growing faster than travel-industry suppliers. But PhoCusWright sees that changing in the next couple of years as the travel industry pushes to reach travelers directly.
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