Yahoo Inc. is introducing an upgraded travel service next Tuesday that blends the breadth of Yahoo search with handy travel-specific features, stepping up its challenge to dedicated travel sites.
Using Yahoo's central search site, consumers can receive instant airfare and hotel price comparisons, satellite overview maps and user reviews of restaurants and tourist destinations, features that previously existed in different corners of the Yahoo network or elsewhere across the web.
Analysts say that by embedding travel features in its core search system as well as throughout the broader Yahoo network, and improving its travel destination site, the company could lure customers away from online travel agents where most online shoppers now look for travel deals.
"Industry-best prices will actually show up in Yahoo search results," said Jasper Malcolmson, director of Yahoo Travel. "We have created a search engine both for best prices and destinations."
Starting Tuesday night, visitors to Yahoo's central search site can quickly locate flight or hotel information using terms such as "flights to Las Vegas" or "compare Las Vegas hotels."
Search results that are returned will feature a range of hotel or airline prices from Yahoo's FareChase price comparison system and direct links to detailed fare information.
These pricing claims reflect how fare offers come not only from Yahoo's own FareChase system but also draw on the low-fare databases of CheapTickets and Orbitz, Malcolmson said.
When a Yahoo customer clicks on a particular hotel offer, a second-level page appears giving either a Yahoo map or a new, detailed satellite image to give the traveller a bird's eye view of where the hotel is located relative to landmarks.
Further enhancing Yahoo's travel system are embedded connections to Yahoo Trip Planner, allowing users to create, categorise and share their personalised itineraries with friends or family. Users are encouraged to publish online travel journals to help others plan trips to the same locale.
While many of the features Yahoo offers can be found scattered across the web, Yahoo is distinguishing itself by the sheer comprehensiveness of travel planning information in one place, said Forrester Research analyst Henry Harteveldt.
A study by Forrester of online travel purchasing habits found that consumers have begun showing greater trust in reviews written by other consumers than from travel promotions written by professionals or others with a commercial stake.
"What Yahoo has and the travel agents don't have is user generated content," Harteveldt said. "Travellers will change their behaviour based on what they see from other consumers."
Yahoo's travel site at http://travel.yahoo.com had 15.75 million unique visitors world-wide during February, according to Internet traffic research firm comScore Networks. Yahoo only launched a separate travel business in June 2004.
According to a March survey by Forrester Research, Internet media companies such as Yahoo or AOL only represent 20 percent of the U.S. market for online travel, in part because of a one-size-fits-all-approach to the travel business.
Three-quarters of the market is controlled by travel brands or dedicated online agents such as Expedia or Sabre's Travelocity, which typically require users to sign on and give up a range of personal details, allowing the sites to more precisely tailor travel offerings to their customers.
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