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Online travel bookings to take off, study says

As more consumers turn to Net to make purchases, search engines put online travel companies on a fast flight to growth.

The U.S. online travel market will soar to $91 billion by 2009, up nearly 70 percent from $54 billion in 2004, a new study says.

The study, released Wednesday by JupiterResearch, predicted that by 2009, about one-third of U.S. travel bookings will be purchased on the Web. Currently, a quarter of travel bookings are made online.

"We're seeing steady growth across all segments of the online travel industry," JupiterResearch analyst Diane Clarkson said in a statement. "Both business and leisure travelers are booking a growing percentage of their travel online."

The popularity of search engines accounts for part of the growth. More consumers are prompted to visit travel sites as a result of searches than through any other media source, according to Jupiter.

"In this competitive market, the online travel industry must ensure that search is at the forefront of their marketing strategy," Clarkson said.

Though online travel agencies such as Orbitz and Expedia will benefit from the growth spurt, airlines and hotels are expected to walk away with an even larger piece of the pie through their own Web sites. Their market share in online travel bookings is expected to grow to 60 percent by 2009, compared to 56 percent in 2004.