Orbitz Pulls $61 Million Account Out of Y&R

Travel Site Eyes Mullen, Element 79 for Creative Work

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Travel website Orbitz is pulling its $61 million creative account out of Young & Rubicam, Chicago, the marketer confirmed today.
"We decided to part with Y&R and look for a new strategic partner," said an Orbitz spokesman.

Possible replacements
The list of agencies vying for the business includes, but may not be limited to, Omnicom Group's Element 79, Chicago, and Interpublic Group of Cos.' Mullen, Boston. Mullen was a finalist in the review for Orbitz rival Expedia's $170 million account Expedia's $170 million account, which ultimately went to independent Doner, Southfield, Mich.

The split with WPP Group's Y&R comes as Orbitz appears to be taking market share away from its rivals. Domestic gross bookings were up 30% in the first quarter and 43% in the second quarter. They are expected to rise around 30% for the third quarter when those results are announced later this month.

But the online-booking sector is becoming increasingly competitive, as existing players such as Expedia and Travelocity have boosted spending, and travel search aggregators such as Kayak and Sidestep have begun offering similar services. American Express recently announced plans for its own online-booking service. And the five major airlines that founded Orbitz in 2001 have seen traffic on their own websites climb, adding additional competition.

Upgrading marketing
Orbitz President Steven Barnhart -- who took office in September, only a few months after the sale of Orbitz to the Blackstone Group, a major private-equity firm -- said in an October interview with Crain's Chicago Business that his plan to grow Orbitz included upgrading overall marketing.

According to TNS Media Intelligence, Orbitz spent $60.9 million on measured media during 2005 and $30.7 million through the first six months of 2006.

An Element 79 spokeswoman said she couldn't immediately comment when asked about the review. A Mullen spokesman didn't immediately return a phone call. Calls to Y&R weren't immediately returned.