ONLINE travel industry leader Expedia is facing increasing competition from the big four tour operators as they bid for Internet supremacy.


Thomas Cook chief executive Manny Fontenla-Nova claimed Expedia’s growth has “plateaued” because the big four – Thomas Cook, MyTravel, Thomson and First Choice – have a tight grip on beach property inventory.


Fontenla-Nova conceded the US giant is a strong city break site. However he claimed “it can not make money on air (sales) alone”.


“Expedia has hit a brick wall,” he said. “It is trying to break into beach holidays but doesn’t have access to the stock.”


Fontenla-Nova said the six most- popular online travel sites now include the big four operators with Thomson second to Expedia and Thomas Cook breathing down Lastminute.com’s throat for third position.


The big four’s share of visits to all travel sites grew massively in 2005.


Thomas Cook has increased its market share from 2.8% in January 2005 to 4.9% 12 months later, jumping from sixth to fourth in the rankings. Thomson has moved from fourth to second, increasing share from 5.2% to 6.5%, and MyTravel is up from ninth to fifth. First Choice’s share rose from 3.6% to 4.8%.


Although Expedia remains way ahead of the pack on 10.2%, that is down from 10.6% in January 2005.


Around a quarter of Thomas Cook sales are made via Thomascook.com, while Thomson’s online sales are around 30% “Online is a battle we have joined,” said Fontenla-Nova.


However, an Expedia spokesman said the company ‘welcomed competition’.


“We have experienced significant growth in the summer sun market in the last couple of years and we expect it to continue. We are in a strong position”.


By Paul nelson