Orbitz prepares for takeoff with seven-figure account

CHICAGO: Orbitz, a travel Web site funded by five major airlines, is preparing to hire an agency for its upcoming launch - a job that could be worth in the seven-figure range.

CHICAGO: Orbitz, a travel Web site funded by five major airlines, is preparing to hire an agency for its upcoming launch - a job that could be worth in the seven-figure range.

CHICAGO: Orbitz, a travel Web site funded by five major airlines,

is preparing to hire an agency for its upcoming launch - a job that

could be worth in the seven-figure range.



Responses to an RFP recently issued by the company are due August

21.



Orbitz is backed by American Airlines, United, Delta, Continental and

Northwest.



While Orbitz VP of corporate communications Carol Jouzaitis declined to

name the firms in the mix for the assignment, she stressed that agency

size will not be a major factor in her decision. ’We want a breakthrough

event for the launch,’ she said. ’Creativity matters more than size.’

She added that PR spending for the assignment could reach seven

figures.



While Orbitz has not announced its formal launch date, industry watchers

expect a September or early October debut so that the company can go

after late-year holiday travel business. Much of the company’s young

life has been spent responding to issues in Washington: travel agents

and other travel Web sites are concerned that Orbitz will offer fares

not available elsewhere, thus giving it a huge edge over

competitors.



The American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) has filed a formal

complaint about the site with the Justice Department. The Department of

Transportation and the Senate Commerce Committee are also scrutinizing

the company, according to Paul Ruden, ASTA’s SVP for legal and industry

affairs. ’We want to see (Orbitz) go away,’ he said.



Jouzaitis acknowledged that Orbitz is facing an ’issues management

challenge’ that could prompt the company to take on government affairs

help in DC.



She plans to use PR to counter ’misinformation’ efforts by the company’s

detractors, and will run a national media-outreach effort targeted at

travel writers and the consumer press. ’The message will be that Orbitz

plans to offer completely neutral travel information. We’re running our

own company,’ Jouzaitis explained.



But opponents said that PR alone cannot dispel their misgivings about

the site. ’A lot of customers are getting more and more unhappy with the

airlines in a number of different venues,’ said Ed Rothschild, who

oversees PR for the Interactive Travel Service Association, a trade

group of travel sites. ’(Orbitz) contributes to the closer scrutiny that

the industry is going to get.’



Orbitz has been using Kemper Lesnick Communications for PR, hiring

Jouzaitis away from the agency last month. Kemper Lesnick will continue

to work with the company.



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