NetRatings: Orbitz is Web's biggest e-commerce launch

Despite a field littered with the corpses of defunct dot-coms, Orbitz LLC last month managed to pull off the most successful Web launch in terms of visitors to a site, according to Nielsen/NetRatings.

Launched at the beginning of June, Chicago-based Orbitz attracted 2.07 million unique, at-home visitors during its first month, an increase of 1.9 million over the number of unique, at-home users who visited the travel site in May, the final month of its beta test. That is the highest increase in traffic to a newly launched Web site since NetRatings began tracking Internet traffic in 1999, said NetRatings spokeswoman Jennifer Fan.

In all, Orbitz had 3.7 million unique visitors during the month of June. That number includes people who accessed the site both from home and work, as well as beta users who had been using the site since before its official launch.

NetRatings tracks unique visitors, or computers, that access a site, as opposed to the number of times a site is accessed, which could include repeat visits from users of the same computer. The visitors are broken down into two groups, at-home and at-work. NetRatings has only been tracking at-work visitors since January 2000, so comparisons with some launches can only be made for at-home users.

Even when comparing only at-home visitors, Orbitz had almost twice as many unique visitors as the next most successful launch: last October's relaunch of Walmart.com, which attracted 1 million more household visitors than it had during its last prelaunch month.

The Orbitz launch was helped by summer airfare and travel sales as well as a sweepstakes promotion in which a pair of tickets was given away to Orbitz registrants every hour since the June 4 launch and continuing through July 15, said Orbitz CEO Jeffrey Katz in a statement.

Orbitz, to some degree, was a victim of its own success during its first week, when the site was so busy that users had trouble getting through. The Web site was also hindered when fiber-optic cable that feeds its Chicago headquarters was accidentally cut on the official launch day, slowing Web traffic to the site.

Compared with other online businesses, the online travel industry in general has fared well in the slowing economy. Bellevue, Wash.-based Expedia Inc., a key Orbitz competitor, was expecting an operating profit early this year, but it still lags behind Fort Worth, Texas-based Travelocity.com Inc., which runs the most popular Internet travel site.

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