Fuel prices are rising. Inflation fears are mounting. Consumers are nervous. It is not surprising, then, that sales in the maturing US online travel market will now grow more slowly than they have in recent years.

Nevertheless, according to the new eMarketer report, Online Travel in the US: Pursuing Customer Loyalty, US online leisure/unmanaged business travel sales will total $78 billion in 2006, up 20% over last year, while online corporate sales will be in the neighborhood of $37 billion.

"With most US travelers already using the Internet, online travel distributors will compete more aggressively for their business," says Jeffrey Grau, eMarketer Senior Analyst and author of the report. "To earn customer loyalty, online travel agencies are beefing up customer service and online travel suppliers, such as hotels, are adding more information about accommodations and nearby activities."

In 2005, the US travel industry generated estimated sales of $224 billion, the second consecutive year of growth exceeding 7%, according to PhoCusWright.

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