FORT WORTH, Texas — With pointy red gnome hats, a cruise giveaway and plenty of balloons, Travelocity turned sweet 16 last month. But it hasn't been all cupcakes and champagne for the Texas-based travel Web site.
Once considered a trailblazer, Travelocity has struggled for the past few years to keep up with competitors such as Expedia or Priceline.
"We weren't moving as fast as we needed to," CEO Carl Sparks said.
Since Sparks took the top job a year ago, he and his executive team have refocused the company on hotel products, build-your-own-vacation packages and mobile devices. In February, the company launched its first iPad app, which allows users to book airline tickets, hotels and rental cars from their tablets and offers hotel deals exclusive to its mobile apps.
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While industry analysts say Travelocity is still playing catch-up, they are encouraged by Sparks' initiatives and the disciplined approach he has brought to the company.
"He is refining the team, and they are working on platform solutions now," Atmos Group analyst Henry Harteveldt said. "There is a lot they can do, and they have matured into a compelling company."
In a survey that Harteveldt conducted late last year, 13 percent of consumers said they used Travelocity to book their leisure/personal travel within the previous 12 months, as many as Priceline, Orbitz and Hotels.com. Expedia ranked first, with 21 percent.
"They outlasted some of their competitors, but I think it shows just because you're first doesn't mean you end up on top," said Harteveldt, adding that Priceline has vaulted over Travelocity into the industry's No. 2 spot. "While I don't think Travelocity was complacent, I don't think they were able to push the meter as well as they would have liked to and certainly not as much as they needed."
When Sparks came in as CEO last April, he recognized that having staff spread among three offices slowed down business decisions. Sparks, who was previously president of Gilt Groupe, an online fashion retailer, and had worked at Expedia and Hotels.com, closed Travelocity's offices in New York and San Francisco, consolidating employees at its headquarters in Southlake, Texas.
He also added more executives with experience in e-commerce and continues to hire developers to create products and apps. And instead of trying to make Travelocity all things to consumers, Sparks decided to focus on three areas: hotels, vacation packages and mobile platforms.
"We could do a lot more with this brand than we have," Sparks said, adding that he is pleased with the past year's progress. "We're very proud of the fact that we're large and we're profitable and we're growing again.