Orbitz, an online travel booking site, has just launched a new specialized site for those who book their own travel - http://roadwarrior.orbtiz.com.
How does Orbitz plan to win over this small but lucrative segment of the hotly competitive business travel market? Apparently, not by having the lowest price. Indeed, in an article in the New York Times describing the new site, an Orbitz spokesperson described their fares as "roughly the same" as can be found on the airline's own sites. So why bother going to Orbitz?
Rather than focusing on deals and bargains, this new Orbitz site seeks to build a loyal following by indulging users with valuable, relevant information and useful productivity tools.
It starts with lots of notification options. In addition to the email or phone call a lot of us now already get about flight status, Orbitz offers to send the same status alerts to up to six people -- the person picking you up at your destination, for example. But then Orbitz goes much further, proactively monitoring weather, airport conditions and closures, gate changes, and even problems at your hotel that might impact your stay, and contacting you while there is still time to avoid the problem.
And Orbitz offers much more than just travel alerts. It provides detailed city guides (licensed from wcities.com), along with restaurant and event listings. Hotel listings contain commercial reviews (licensed from Frommer's) as well as reviews from verified Orbtiz business travelers. There's also a searchable database of wireless hotspots (powered by jiwire.com), and a hotel database searchable by business amenities such as Internet connectivity.
Overall, Orbitz has done a commendable job aggregating and integrating a variety of data sources to create a self-service travel agency for the business traveler. It's a great example of how information can power commerce by adding value and differentiation. It's also a great example of how there is increasingly a commerce component (in this case a ticketing business) that is providing the necessary revenue to justify aggregating and integrating all this content in the first place.
This vibrant intersection between information and commerce can be a good thing for data publishers (look at the number who have done deals with Orbitz!), but it can also be an area of concern. Companies selling products and services can justify building or licensing competitive databases and giving them away in the hope they will spur a sale. But when publishers find their subscription data product is someone else's free product catalog, it might not put them out of business, but it could make selling that content just that much harder.