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Cendant arm takes Trip.com on the road

A $40 million advertising blitz will accompany the relaunch of the travel Web site, upping the ante in the market now dominated by Expedia and Travelocity.com.

Cendant affiliate Trip Network is unrolling a $40 million advertising blitz to relaunch its Trip.com travel site, upping the ante in the market now dominated by Expedia and Travelocity.com.

As part of the promotion, the company is giving away 10 free airline tickets a day between April 30 and May 13. Consumers must purchase an airline ticket through the site to qualify. Trip.com is also offering 10 percent discounts on selected airfares through May 6.

Travel giant Cendant, which owns hotel chains including Ramada and Howard Johnson as well as rental car company Avis, has in the past struck deals with the travel sites Expedia and Travelocity. Cendant acquired Trip.com when it purchased computer-reservation systems company Galileo in October. A previous version of the Trip.com site debuted in January.

The new Trip.com site will offer customers discounts on resort accommodations through Cendant affiliate RCI Holiday Network, a time-share exchange business that controls about 70 percent of that business. Consumers will also be able to book hotels and rental cars through Galileo, the booking service used by travel agents. In addition, consumers will be offered a 24-hour help line.

According to the Trip.com press kit, visitors will have access to "low leisure rates" at Avis, and the site will offer "unpublished airfares up to 40 percent off regularly published fares" through special arrangements with select airlines. Trip.com COO Jacob Stepan said the company would benefit from Cendant's experience in the travel business, but would not be giving a special push to Cendant properties.

"We have relationships with Cendant to provide call-center technology and other technology, but as far as inventory goes...if we're biasing Cendant properties or inventory at the expense of the customer, it's not going to be a win for them," he said.

Cendant will continue its relationships with other travel sites. However, some closer links are expected later this year when Trip.com will provide air and car rental services to Cendant's hotel property sites, Stephan said.

Trip.com is jumping into one of the few areas of e-commerce that is showing signs of growth, with traffic to online travel sites rising 12 percent to 51.2 million visitors in March, compared with 45.9 million in February, according to Nielsen/NetRatings.

But a few sites dominate much of that traffic. Expedia had 11.6 million unique visitors in March; Travelocity clocked 10.2 million visitors. Newcomer Orbitz.com, backed by a consortium of airlines, has come on strong as well, with 6.5 million unique visitors in March.

Trip.com didn't make it onto Nielsen/NetRatings' top 10 list, although CheapTickets.com, which is also owned by Cendant, came in at No. 5 with 4.3 million unique visitors.

The company hopes to make a splash with its ad campaign, which will include TV, radio, print and Internet placements. The campaign will focus on portraits of different travelers and their preferences, with the slogan "There's only one you."