Online travel spending reached a record $557.5 million for the week ended Jan. 13, according to ComScore Networks, a tracking company based here.
The total was nearly twice the volume recorded during the same week in 2001. Previous weekly highs hovered around the $540 million mark last summer, said ComScore vice president Dan Hess.
ComScore also reported consumers spent $19.4 billion last year on U.S. travel sites, accounting for 36% of the $53 billion spent by online consumers at all U.S. retail sites.
Hess said the results show travel to be “the driving force” of Web purchasing.
The closest category rivals in 2001 were computer hardware (15%), apparel and accessories (10%) and office supplies (8%).
Online travel was doing well compared with other categories before the Sept. 11 attacks and the Nov. 12 crash of American Airlines Flight 587, ComScore found.
“In July and August, online travel sales reached a fever pitch, fueled by consumer comfort with buying on line, deep price discounts and new choices in online agencies,” Hess said.
“But after Sept. 11, the sector`s sales fell dramatically before beginning a slow recovery,” capped by the record week ended Jan. 13.
The revival of online travel could be viewed as a mixed bag for traditional agencies.
It`s a good thing if it`s symbolic of an overall pickup in the travel economy. It`s not as positive a signal if online travel businesses—with their fare sales, Web-only specials and negotiated rates—are proving more nimble than offline competitors.
The data for 2001 also revealed that 62% of online travel spending in the U.S. occurred from workplace computers.
In addition, the ComScore e-commerce review found that 12% of travel dollars spent on U.S. travel sites came from users outside the U.S.
Hess said ComScore tracked almost all online travel sites—including those owned by suppliers, consolidators and online agencies—with the exception of Priceline.com, an auction site.
ComScore is one of the first tracking firms to report numbers for online consumer travel spending for 2001.
Although many research firms make dollar projections based on consumer opinion surveys, ComScore tracks the purchases of 1.5 million Web users who give the company permission to monitor their buying.
“We have a tremendous level of confidence in our numbers,” said Hess, noting the company shows great accuracy in tracking corporate revenue and that its figures largely have coincided with the Department of Commerce`s quarterly Estimate of U.S. E-commerce Retail Sales.
ComScore`s study tracked all travel-related transactions—including air, car, hotel, cruise, vacation package and railway sales—on U.S. travel sites, but excluded nontravel transactions on those sites, such as sales of travel accessories or luggage.
The numbers appear to be in the right ballpark, according to other analysts.
PhoCusWright pegs the online travel market (consumer and unmanaged business) at $20.2 billion for 2001.
Krista Pappas, a former Gomez.com analyst who is senior vice president of strategic planning and partnerships at FareChase, said ComScore`s report that travel commands a 36% share of U.S. e-commerce “sounds about right,” although she added that the $19.4 billion total “definitely sounds high.”
In September, Forrester Research projected that 2001 online leisure travel sales would come in at about $16.7 billion.
The Travel Industry Association of America estimated that U.S. consumers spent $13 billion on line in 2000