TECHNOLOGY: Tapping the Internet

J.L. Erickson Amid the rapidly changing social-networking on the Internet, a growing number of travel agents and industry leaders are tapping into new technological tacks to reach out to get the attention of on-the-go clients. While blogs and podcasts have been around for several years, their use is inc

By: J.L. Erickson

Amid the rapidly changing social-networking on the Internet, a growing number of travel agents and industry leaders are tapping into new technological tacks to reach out to get the attention of on-the-go clients.

While blogs and podcasts have been around for several years, their use is increasingly growing. Analysts at Gartner Inc. estimated last month that next year around 100 million bloggers will be active online. While there are no definitive statistics on the exact number of travel blogs on the global Internet, a Google search turns up 128 million in less than a second; 38 million travel podcasts turn up.

Bruce Fisher, founder and co-owner of Honolulu-based Hawaii Aloha Travel (, recently launched an Internet blog as well as 12-minute podcasts “The Hawaii Vacation Connection”

Launched in April, the podcasts now get about 300 downloads a day, he said. Neither efforts were in his original marketing plan.

“For us, we’ve had to refresh our entire marketing plan to reflect blogs and podcasts and to keep pace with the fast pace of the Internet,” he said. Short for “Web logs,” blogs are simple Internet sites that highlight your running commentary on travel everything from the best cruise deals to a first-person experience at a luxury spa.

Scott Ahlsmith, president of Magellan Travel Group, likens blogs to a running conversation between you and your clients or prospects. And the advantages include the low cost, increased contact with clients and the ease most are much easier to set up and maintain than a full-blown agency Web site.

Ahlsmith recently launched YOU! The Brand a new blog service that offers agents help in setting up their own blogs. The service offers nearly three-dozen templates from which to choose the blog “interface” that can be changed at any time. The service costs about $50 a month, or $479 prepaid for a year, and includes content, a weekly podcast and a personal Web domain name.

Nolan Burris, founder of Visionistics, is an advocate of travel blogs.

“Just remember, this isn’t a place to blatantly sell your stuff, but you can put links to your Web site within your reviews and place ads that link to your Web site,” he said in a presentation to agents last year. “This will definitely help your Google rankings. Just be careful. Blog readers can spot a thinly veiled sales pitch in a heartbeat. If a blog isn’t read, it doesn’t help your rankings.”

Podcasts also are growing in popularity as the multimedia presentations use syndication feeds to offer users the ability to download and play them on everything from mobile devices to personal computers.

Virgin Atlantic offers downloadable podcasts ( that highlight destinations from New York City and Las Vegas to Shanghai and Dubai. And noting Americans’ busy schedules, a fitness destination spa in Ojai, Calif., also has launched a series of podcasts in what may be a first from the industry of health-oriented destination spas.

For now, Fisher whose agency is now up to more than 20 home-based agents and among the top rankings on Internet search engines says he’s continuing to monitor trends and how they fit into his marketing plan.


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“Fly me to the moon” is no longer just a romantic notion, it’s a request that 45 adventurous travel consultants including 19 from the Western region will soon hear as Virgin Galactic announced the Virtuoso consultants who will train to become “Accredited Space Agents.”

The consultants will be the only agents in North America allowed to reserve seats aboard Virgin Galactic’s suborbital space flights, since Virgin sought experts in selling experiential travel.

“The Virtuoso consultants we selected embody the adventurous and entrepreneurial spirit needed to represent Virgin Galactic,” said Carolyn Wincer, head of Astronaut Sales for Virgin Galactic.

The select group will undergo a comprehensive education program, with training this year. Once accredited, agents can begin reserving seats, with the first flights launching in late 2008. Overall, participants will make a five-year commitment to the program, which includes marketing and sales support. To date, the world has seen fewer than 500 astronauts, but officials hope that will soon change. Started by Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, Virgin Galactic will own and operate privately built spaceships, modeled on the SpaceShipOne craft.

Travelers who pony up $20,000 for the cost of a ticket get a once-in-a-lifetime experience that includes Astronaut training, “G force” acclimatization and a spaceflight lasting over two hours.

Western region agents tapped as specialists include: Betsy Donley, Camelback Odyssey Travel, Phoenix; Lynda Garrett, Alpine Travel of Saratoga, Calif.; Mary Cardoza, Cardoza-Bungey Travel, Palo Alto, Calif.; Patricia O’Neill, Cassis Travel Service, Los Angeles; Jay Johnson, Coastline Travel Advisors, Garden Grove, Calif.; Kathy Keithley, Cruise and Resort Inc., Sherman Oaks, Calif.; Gayle Gillies, Gayle Gillies Travel, Rancho Santa Fe, Calif.; Lindsey Wallace, Linara Travel, Calabasas, Calif.; Craig Buck, Montecito Village Travel, Santa Barbara, Calif.; Jim Sheehy, Protravel International, Palm Desert, Calif.; Scott Borden, Travel Dynamics Group Inc., La Jolla, Calif.; Tom Jackson, World Travel Bureau, Santa Ana, Calif.; Craig Carter, Worldview Travel, Santa Ana, Calif.; Vicki Upchurch, Brownell Travel, Aspen, Colo.; Alfred Volden, All World Travel Inc., Albuquerque, N.M.; Pedro Rubio, Kingwood Travel, Kingwood, Texas; and Tara Hyland and Diane Vest of Navigant Vacations, Houston.


Sabre Travel Network has launched a Web-based product aimed at helping hotels and travel agencies manage hotel booking commissions more effectively. Implementation of Sabre Worldwide Commission Manager began last month and marks one of the first efforts to develop an industry-wide standard.

Hotel chains and independent properties will receive regular updates about their commission status as Sabre Travel Network exports to Sabre Worldwide Commission Manager monthly booking information, such as reservation numbers, check-in and check-out dates, rates and commissions. Hotel operators can then access and manage this information in several ways, including on the Internet. Sabre travel agencies will be able to track their commission status online, while a claim tool eases communication between hotels and agencies about pending commissions.

The product is available to more than 76,000 hotels and Sabre’s worldwide network of travel agencies that use the Sabre global distribution system.


Amid the changing GDS landscape, alternative distribution firm Farelogix recently announced a deal with BCD Travel, the world’s third-largest travel management company.

Terms of the multi-year deal were not disclosed but the companies said they will work together to develop and implement a new technology platform for content management, aiming to boost supplier optimization and increase efficiencies.

“This is a very big relationship for us and we’re pleased,” said Farelogix CEO Jim Davidson, noting the deal makes BCD Travel the firm’s largest client to date.

Rollout is expected to begin in the first quarter, Davidson said, and the new platform is expected to allow BCD Travel agents to source travel inventory from a variety of channels including supplier-direct connections, legacy Global Distribution Systems and private and Internet-fare sources.

The platform also will allow BCD Travel to centralize data sources, faring and travel policy, as well as monitor and manage customer contracts.


Creative Leisure International has launched a new online reference guide to help agents book the company’s luxury resort and villa vacations. The site includes a comprehensive resort listing, practical sales strategies and details of Creative Leisure’s agent incentive program.

Creative Leisure’s Travel Agent Tools include brochures for Hawaii, the Caribbean, Mexico and more. The site also allows agents to sign into CreativeMatch, which allows agents to create and e-mail personalized electronic brochures to clients.