Amazon Plans SideStep Travel Store

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Internet retailer Amazon.com Inc. early next year will let consumers search more than 100 travel sites for deals, making further inroads into the biggest e-commerce category.


Visitors will use SideStep Inc.'s travel search engine on Amazon to shop for rooms and airline tickets from brands like JetBlue Airlines, Hyatt Corp., Thrifty Car Rental and American Airlines as well as online agencies and consolidators. Visitors who click through will transact at the brand's site.


"The travel store will be co-branded, which means not only do we have the opportunity to introduce Amazon's customers to the benefits of the travel search model, we'll also introduce them to the SideStep brand," said Phil Carpenter, vice president of corporate marketing at SideStep, Santa Clara, CA.


Amazon is not disclosing the look-and-feel of the new travel store. But it certainly will rely on its 50-million-plus customer accounts to use the site as a gateway to travel shopping online. The retailer currently partners with Hotwire.com and The Vacation Store to offer travel deals to consumers.


Market researcher PhoCusWright Inc. projects that U.S. online leisure and unmanaged business travel bookings will grow from $65 billion this year to $94 billion in 2007. The Sherman, CT, firm also expects 42 percent of all U.S. travel purchases will be made online this year, climbing to 55 percent in 2007.


"Travelers have shown their enthusiasm for buying travel online through their actions," Carpenter said.


Key players in travel e-commerce include Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz, CheapTickets, Hotwire.com, Kayak.com, lastminute.com, Site59.com, Travelzoo and SideStep. Several large hotel chains and airlines now encourage bookings directly on their sites.


The category's growth has attracted Yahoo and America Online to the potential of travel search. Carpenter is not unduly worried.


"While both Yahoo and AOL have entered the travel search arena, their relationships with Travelocity have hindered them from scaling their travel search efforts as Travelocity pays both companies millions of dollars each year to dominate their travel sections," he said. "Amazon, however, is not encumbered by such a relationship, and that means it can put substantial effort behind growing this 'new and improved' travel store."


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