Have Web, Will Travel

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Have Web, Will Travel!

Creating Web-Based Travel Guides for Vacation Destinations

Read "Travel Agent or Travel Site? It Depends on the Trip," focusing on the following questions:

a. What different types of tourist and travel- planning information is available on the Web?

b. How would someone go about comparing airfares on the Web?

c. Why has travel- planning on the Web proven to be a successful financial endeavor for the companies that offer on-line airplane ticket sales?

d. Why do different travel companies on the Web have different prices for tickets to the same destination?

e. How do the five travel companies discussed in the article compare in what they offer to users?

f. What purpose do quotations from online travel agent users serve in this article?

|May 13, 1999 |

|Travel Agent or Travel Site? It Depends on the Trip |


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|Before she flew to Paris this spring, Mary Shane looked for travel help on the Internet. There, she was told (1) not to pack such French fashion |

|no-nos as sneakers or blue jeans, (2) that the budget hotel she was considering was clean and conveniently located and (3) that the best price |

|available for a round-trip airplane ticket was $600. |

|Two out of three turned out to be true. "In Paris, all the women were wearing black and my hotel was, well, it was clean enough," she said. But |

|Ms. Shane, who is 53 and lives near Olympia, Wash., found a cheaper fare off line, paying $525 for a round-trip ticket offered by a Montgomery |

|Ward travel service. |

|Ms. Shane's experience typifies both the best and the worst aspects of online travel sites. If you are willing to wade through dozens of travel |

|sites -- general sites for airline, hotel and car rental reservations; travel chat rooms, and sites with tourist information -- you may stumble |

|upon useful information that could save you time, money and the embarrassment of showing up at the Eiffel Tower in Nikes. You can even be your own|

|travel agent and book airline tickets, hotel rooms or rental cars. There is no guarantee that you will find a better deal online than you find if |

|you walked through the door of your local travel agency, but the simpler your travel needs, the better the chances of finding the best prices on |

|the Web. If your tastes run to cooking or museum tours or high-end travel, you are more likely to need a travel agent. |

|The vast majority of people who visit online airline sites do so for research. Only about 30 percent of those people end up buying at those sites,|

|according to a new study from NPD Online Research, a market research company in Port Washington, N.Y. |

|"So far I've always found a cheaper price off line," said Ms. Shane, a retired analyst for the county health department. "But since I live in a |

|little town of 3,000 people -- it really is the sticks -- I couldn't live without the information I get from the Internet." |

|In recent months, more and more travelers have been booking trips online. Several of the sites with the most traffic reported record sales in |

|1999. Over all, online sales last year accounted for about $2.23 billion, about 1.7 percent, of the amount spent by Americans on leisure travel |

|and on business travel that is not handled by corporate services. But that figure is expected to climb by the end of 2002 to nearly $12.6 billion,|

|about 7.9 percent of what is expected to be spent then on leisure and unmanaged business travelthen, said Fiona Swerdlow, a digital commerce |

|analyst at Jupiter Communications. In addition to potential savings, the Internet also offers a powerful psychological benefit. At a time when |

|travelers are so often forced to endure the indignities of canceled flights or lost luggage or have suspicions that the passenger in the next seat|

|paid $400 less for the same ticket, the Internet puts part of the process firmly back under their control. That's perfect for the information |

|hound who likes to compare a number of permutations of an air route just to save $50. |

|"It's like driving your own car instead of being in the passenger's seat," said Richard Gritta, a professor of business at the University of |

|Portland in Oregon who studies the airline industry. "The Internet makes you an active participant." |

|Most of the larger travel sites, like Microsoft Expedia Travel (expedia.) and Travelocity (), work like this: customers |

|submit itinerary information, like dates and times of travel and departure and arrival cities. (Many sites, however, will not give you price |

|information if you have multiple destinations and want to fly into and out of different cities.) Then the site spits out a list of airplane |

|itineraries and prices, or hotel or car information and prices. To buy, customers type in credit card information, and the purchase is confirmed |

|by e-mail. |

|Consumers are most likely to see the largest price swings -- and largest potential savings -- for airline tickets. Most major carriers encourage |

|online sales because the airlines generally pay lower commissions to online agents than to off-line travel agencies. And many online sites have |

|struck deals with specific carriers to offer special deals. |

|You can also find big price differences among the various travel sites because they do not all check flights for the same set of airlines, even |

|though many sites seem to share databases. For example, a recent search for a fare for three people to fly from New York to Rome in midsummer |

|turned up a fare of $3,084 from Travelocity, $2,802 from Expedia and $2,814 from Skytours (service.skytours.de). |

|Many airlines also offer online reservations for their own flights at their own Web sites, which can be good places to look for specials. And |

|travelers concerned about frequent-flier miles may want to go straight to the Web sites of particular airlines. But if you go to the general |

|sites, you can get information from many airlines at once. Air-fare prices can fluctuate from day to day, largely because airlines use |

|sophisticated yield-management techniques to track sales and adjust prices. |

|Some of the bigger travel sites have added improvements in recent months that make them easier to navigate. Last month, Travelocity added a Best |

|Fare Finder feature that allows travelers to see the cheapest ticket for any given air route. Expedia recently introduced Mileage Miner, which |

|will keep track of customers' frequent-travel account balances and point them toward new mileage offers. And Preview Travel |

|() beefed up its Destination Guides last month, enabling travelers to read restaurant and hotel reviews for 202 destinations.|

|Charles Sheppard, of Nahunta, Ga., was recently able to find a New York hotel room through Expedia, which strikes deals with specific hoteliers |

|and also has access to the Pegasus reservations system, a database that contains the most up-to-date rates for thousands of hotel rooms. |

|"I found the hotel I wanted," Sheppard said, "saw the price was $160 a night, which was much less expensive than the price that a local travel |

|agency gave me for the same hotel, and booked it. They sent e-mail to confirm the reservation." |

|While some sites have streamlined the purchasing process, do not expect from travel sites the kind of one-click shopping that makes it so easy to |

|buy, say, books on . "With travel, one click is too quick," said Suzi Levine, a product manager for Expedia. "This is often an expensive|

|purchase, and we want to make it very clear to customers that here is what they are buying. You don't want customers to have remorse. We want them|

|to feel like they're in control." |

|But booking online works best for travelers who want to make relatively simple arrangements. |

|"Right now the technology is ideally suited to someone who needs a round-trip ticket on a well-traveled air route, who can say, 'I know what I |

|want and what I'm willing to pay,' " said Gadi Maier, chief executive of the Internet Travel Network (). |

|For travelers like Lisa Myers, a mother of two who has booked several family trips on Travelocity in the past two years, the Internet can seem an |

|ideal solution. "We travel a lot to see our family, and I'm looking for a good air fare," said Ms. Myers, who lives in Houston. |

|"I usually have some flexibility on dates, so I look to see when we can fly the cheapest and then I book it. I usually do it at night, after the |

|children are asleep." |

|But planning something more complicated, like a cruise, can require an expert's advice. You're not very likely to find out how old the ship is or |

|how nice the staff is just by surfing travel sites. |

|"If you think about travel today, there are two general categories," said Ms. Swerdlow, the analyst. "There's complex travel, which involves lots |

|of questions to be answered, and then there's fairly simple travel, which might require nothing more than a point-to-point airline ticket. In the |

|future, you'll see online sites becoming easier to navigate, but today, the straightforward type of arrangement is what most people would feel |

|comfortable with doing online." |

|Microsoft Expedia Travel |

|Preview Travel |

|Travelocity |

|Skytours |

|Internet Travel Network |

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|Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company |

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