Travel Industry Casts Wider Net - InformationWeek

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Travel Industry Casts Wider Net

New features and, in one case, an improved network backbone hope to lure more travelers online.

Consumers could get a better travel experience starting with online services as more niche sites pop up, and companies like Worldspan L.P. and AT&T Inc. give travel shops new technologies to support services.

While promises of travel deals prove the best method to lure consumers online, the booking could fall apart without the technology to support the transaction.

So, Worldspan LP, which processes 58 percent of all travel bookings, recently ditched the private fiber connection and replaced it with AT&T Inc.'s "self-healing technology," Worldspan's vice president of Network and e-Commerce Systems Kelly Higgins said Friday.

"We moved the point-to-point connection between our facility and AT&T to a fault-tolerant fiber connection that provides us with high-availability network," Higgins said. "It's about improving reliability and driving out cost."

The travel industry's shift toward Internet-based and broadband networks, and away from frame relay, has prompted a slew of new sites and services.

Airlines under pressure to reduce costs have been devising ways to draw consumers to their sites. "Consumers may research trips on Expedia, Priceline, Orbiz, Travelocity and other, but they are booking the travel on sites owned by airlines," said Jeffrey Grau, senior analyst retailing and online travel at research firm eMarketer.

Grau suggests consumers looking for the best fare who have a flexible schedule might want to visit FareCompare LP, Yahoo! Inc.'s Farechase, and Flyspy.com.

Flyspy, designed by Robert Metcalf after spending six hours combing through Web sites to figure out ticket prices from various airports, aims to estimate the best time to travel for the lowest fare.

The site offers data from Minneapolis to several cities. It's not fully operational, but does use stats from Northwest Airlines to give those visiting the site an idea on how it will operate. Seattle-based Farecast Inc. launched earlier this week to bring consumers service data from more than 55 cities.

A site that reflects change, Mywetstuff.com, scheduled to launch Sept. 5, will cater to travelers who don't want to check luggage. They will deliver personalized toiletry kits to travelers' hotels in advance of their arrival. The company will launch the site with a promotion that gives away $1 million in free toiletries to first 70,000 travelers.

Over at Expedia.com, the company recently added "trip insurance," a package protection plan for consumers that need to cancel a trip at the last minute, said David Dennis, an Expedia spokesman.

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