Airline chaos reaches NZ site

Online travel company travel.co.nz says traffic on its site fell by half last week as the combined effects of the US terrorist attacks and Ansett's demise hit home.

Online travel company, travel.co.nz, says traffic on its site fell by half last week as the combined effects of the US terrorist attacks and Ansett's demise hit home.

But company chairman Greg Southcombe says activity on the site is picking up again.

"On the 12th and the 13th our traffic was down by about 50% as probably everyone was like me, standing around with our mouths open."

The next day traffic was back to its usual level, which Southcombe attributes to travel.co.nz's multimedia approach to the business.

"Our TV show and newsletter really push more traffic to the site and that's helped ward off the decline."

Southcombe says without the non-web activities he'd have been feeling the pinch.

"I'd say if we weren't doing those extra things that, definitely, we'd experience a fairly serious decline."

That's not to say bookings for travel won't be affected. Southcombe says travel to the US and to Europe will both be down in the next few weeks.

"We saw this with the Gulf war. Many business people travel to Europe via the US to make business calls there as well. They get two trips out of one that way."

He expects travellers to adopt a "wait and see" attitude at least until the US responds to the attacks.

At least some of the companies that handle ticketing for the airlines are reporting a dramatic, though not surprising, drop in ticketing last week.

Airline reservation systems company Amadeus Global Travel Distribution, as well as online travel sites Expedia and Orbitz reported drops in the number of people purchasing tickets after four hijacked commercial airliners were used last week in terrorist attacks on the US.

Madrid-based Amadeus, a global distribution system, reported yesterday it had 1.6 million fewer bookings last week than during the same period a year ago. That represented a 28% drop, though in North America, where airplanes were ground for three days after the attacks, ticket purchases dropped 74%. North America represents 12% of Amadeus' total annual booking, according to the company.

Likewise, Expedia, in Bellevue, Washington, reported it has seen a drop in purchases, too.

"Travellers booked new reservations on Expedia's sites at between 35% and 40% of the levels for the same days in the prior week. Further, on September 17, bookings were...approximately 45% of the levels for the same day in the prior week," the Expedia statement said. That was the last day before the terrorist strikes leveled the World Trade Center in New York and hit the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. A fourth hijacked plane crashed in Pennsylvania.

Orbitz spokeswoman Dawn Doty said, "Our traffic has been down dramatically since last Tuesday's tragedy. And our call centres have taken tens of thousands of calls assisting customers with questions about their travel plans." Orbitz, located in Chicago, does not, however, have numbers to quantify the drop.

"We hope the situation will stabilise in the coming weeks, now that commercial air traffic is being re-established. Our worldwide bookings volume for the third quarter through [September 10] met market expectations with a growth of around 4%, in spite of the already existing downturn in the North American market," said Amadeus president and CEO Jose Antonio Tazon.

The drop in ticket sales comes at the same time other global distribution systems such as Amadeus are bolstering their system capacities in the expectation of an increase in flight information requests from travellers who need to cancel or rebook flights that were grounded last week, as well as for those travelers who no longer feel safe flying.

(Jennifer DiSabatino of Computerworld online (US) also contributed to this report).

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