The top three publicly traded online travel agencies (OTAs) -- Expedia Inc, and Orbitz Worldwide -- delivered mixed results for the third quarter. But they were unanimous in their caution amid economic challenges not seen in 80 years.

"That's not a tide that we can swim against at the rate we did in Q3," Orbitz Chief Executive Steve Barnhart told Reuters in an interview.

Since the beginning of the third quarter, Expedia and Priceline shares have lost more than 50 percent each. Orbitz shares are down 40 percent for the same period.

Barnhart noted that OTAs have the means to generate travel demand even during down economic times.

"We are somewhat counter-cyclical," he said. "We can be a force in stimulating travel demand."

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