US online leisure and unmanaged business travel sales will reach $78 billion this year, up 20% over last year. Online corporate sales will climb to $37 billion. In spite of those numbers, the US online travel market is maturing and growth is slowing down.

Rising fuel prices and a softening economy put additional pressures on fickle travel customers accustomed to searching and doing price comparisons on several sites before making their purchase.

"It is well documented that consumers visit multiple sites to plan travel," writes Jeffrey Grau, senior analyst in eMarketer's new report, US Online Travel: In Pursuit of Customer Loyalty. "They have to," he adds. "No single travel site consistently offers the best price, shows a complete travel inventory or answers all the questions a consumer has about a travel product." Travel search engines don't always retrieve the lowest prices, and airlines discourage online price comparisons.

Travel e-commerce, an early Internet success story, is predicted by eMarketer to lag behind retail e-commerce growth markets, such as apparel, health & beauty and home furnishings.

Travel companies' best hope for the future is to invest in customer loyalty. Services that will resonate the most with online consumers are personalization and customization that allow the consumer to choose their own amenities and have the hotel, airline or travel company remember them. Forward-thinking travel agencies are beefing up customer service, and online travel suppliers such as hotels, are adding more information about accommodations and nearby activities.

Related Link: Online Travel in the US: Pursuing Customer Loyalty