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.travel - a New Top-Level Domain Has Some Heavy Hitters on Board;
Disney, Expedia, British Airways, Marriott, Carnival Cruise Lines
By Rick Alm, The Kansas City Star, Mo.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Mar. 2, 2006 - Travelers looking for information on the Internet can try a new destination.

The Web has added a domain whose sites end in .travel rather than .com, and so far about 16,000 site names have been registered, said Ron Andruff, president and chief executive of New York-based .travel operator Tralliance Corp.

The domain's anchor site, www.travel.travel , is still working through some growing pains, including refining its search process. It could be months or even years before it becomes the main Web portal for travelers.

But since it opened for site registrations late last year, Andruff said, the site has been adding 1,000 names a week.

Tralliance has been laying international groundwork for the idea for four years and last year won authority from the U.S. Department of Commerce's Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers to establish the travel industry domain, taking its place alongside .com, .net, .org and others.

"The goal is to serve the global travel and tourism industry by making the .travel registry site as user friendly as possible," Andruff said.

When a business signs up for its .travel name, whether it's an industry giant or a tiny bed-and-breakfast, Andruff said, it is vetted as a legitimate business and tourism organization or concern. Andruff said the screening should give the .travel domain a long-term strength.

Big names such as Disney, Expedia, British Airways, Marriott and Carnival Cruise Lines already are on board.

The Kansas City Convention & Visitors Association registered several names -- in self-defense -- at $99 a year per name, but has no .travel presence yet. And local officials said they weren't sure when or whether they ever would.

"We have invested a lot of money through the years in VisitKC.com," said association spokeswoman Laren Mahoney.

"We have more than 3,000 sites linking to us and more than 854,000 unique visitors to the site annually. Educating our audience will be a lot easier on our organization, and on our budget, once the .travel domain has taken off in the marketplace.

"What it boils down to is that the cities with large marketing budgets are going to have to be the pioneers. They will have to advertise the domain to the marketplace and educate travelers. We just don't have the marketing budget to be a pioneer in this area. ... If .travel gains momentum, we will be prepared to embrace it."

Andruff said he has heard that speech before, and he understands.

"A lot of the incumbent players in the game see it as a threat," he said. "Large hotel chains say, - It's expensive for us.'

"What it comes down to is, at the end of the day you want to have as many roads as possible coming to your business's front door."

Andruff said some countries are aggressively registering scores of names important to them, such as the Eiffel Tower.

"Some others are still sleeping, as it were," he said.

"Virtually all U.S. states have registered, along with most of the major cities. The National Park Service has been very diligent about national parks."

Andruff said that an April 1 deadline that gives nations first crack at registering names might be extended. After the deadline, every name will be fair game for registration by any travel industry entity that can pass Tralliance muster.

For consumers, Andruff said, the .travel advantage will be its tightly focused search engine apparatus, which will examine only the .travel universe. That avoids the staggering clutter of the .com universe, he said, asserting that searches provide "millions of responses in seconds, and not an answer to be found."

The "concept-based" searches of .travel thumb through special search profiles that registered sites can fill in, using thousands of possible search factors.

The search engine of .travel is still in a very early and raw live testing phase. Consumers enter a combination of filtering specifications, such as destination, favorite activities, mode of travel and lodging preferences, to search for matching providers.

A reporter's test drive didn't work out very well.

With just two screening specifications in play, "Kansas City" and "driving tours," the search engine delivered about two dozen travel agencies plus a couple of perplexing links -- to the Wisconsin Innkeepers Association and the Pasadena Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Andruff said that disquieting result was probably a consequence of "old Internet thinking" by companies used to casting a wide net to attract customers, any customers, to their Web site.

If .travel succeeds, it might someday be just another spoke on an Internet wheel with such domains as .hardware, .toys, .dishware and so on.

In the interim, Andruff said, a shortcoming will continue to be companies that draw excessively broad profiles of themselves to snare more visitors.

Tralliance is .travel's traffic cop, and Andruff said the company already had warned several registered companies to clean up and tighten their search profiles, under threat of suspension from the domain until they do.

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To reach Rick Alm, call (816) 234-4785 or send e-mail to ralm@kcstar.com .

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Copyright (c) 2006, The Kansas City Star, Mo.

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