Sunday, 26 February 2006

".travel" sponsor on the defensive

The sponsor of the new .travel top-level Internet domain -- the struggling Tralliance Corporation division of the equally struggling TheGobe.com/Voiceglo.com -- appears to be running scared in response to questions about how much ".travel" will actually be used, and a report this month by one of the leading independent analysts of the Internet travel industry concluding that ".travel" is of little value even to the industry for whose benefit it was created.

The 16 February 2006 report by Henry Harteveldt, the lead travel analyst for Forrester Research and the former marketing director of pioneering Internet business travel agency ITN (Internet Travel Network, renamed "GetThere.com after it was acquired by Sabre), is available only to paying Forrester clients. But its message is apparent from the title and public summary: .travel: Nice, But Not Necessary: New Sponsored Domain Name Will Benefit Its Sponsors But Few Others :

Executive Summary: The .travel sponsored domain name is now live. Like a mosquito buzzing around your picnic, .travel is an annoying inconvenience. Only three groups are expected to benefit: the sponsor, Tralliance; destination marketing organizations; and small niche travel firms.

Clearly threatened, Tralliance has responded with an article and an interview with CircleID, which are worth reading if only for the lengthy point-by-point excerpts from the Forrester report they are trying to rebut.

There have been some earlier indications that interest in ".travel" is lagging behind Tralliance's rosy projections in its business plan and application to ICANN. Tralliance has been boasting about the number of names registered in ".travel", but it appears that mosdt of the names "registered" are geographic place-names that have been automatically reserved for potential use by government entities (e.g. ministries of tourism and government tourism promotion offices), not domain names that anyone is actually using yet, or even considering using.

In another propaganda piece also published on CircleID earlier this month, Tralliance argues that consumers will benefit from the .travel directory because it will "ensur[e] the accuracy of the information" they get in response to travel-related searches by limiting it to informnation provided by accredited suppliers of travel products and services. And in his latest interview with CircleID, Tralliance CEO Ron Andruff says that http://www.directory.travel "will revolutionize the way travel and tourism is researched" because "the directory narrows down a list of 100% matches to every multifaceted query."

If that's your goal, Mr. Andruff -- and I think it is -- I don't want to be part of your revolution.

When travellers search the Internet, we don't want tthe responses to our searrch queries to be limited to advertisements: we want to see the negative reviews and independent advice (Andruff calls them "noise") as well. In fact, most travellers would probably prefer search results from which ads were excluded to search results limited to supplier-provided marketing information.

Tralliance's vision for ".travel" is the vision of people like Mr. Andruff who think of "Internet users" solely as "customers", see advertising as the most legitimate and credible category of information, and think the only way we could or should use the Internet is to click on "buy it now". But having written the book on how travellers use the Internet, I can assure Mr. Andruff that it doesn't work like that. The Internet is more widely used, more valuable, and more significant to travellers as a communication and research tool than as a travel shopping channel. ICANN's own evaluators understood the difference between "travel" and "the travel industry", and recommended against delegating .travel to Tralliance for that reason. Mr. Andruff and Tralliance still don't get it.

The Tralliance Web site includes an October 2001 report on the potential for .travel by Bill Carroll of PhoCusWright, Forrester's leading competitor in Internet e-commerce consulting and analysis. Oddly, the PhoCusWright report is on the ICANN Reprts and remarks page of the Tralliance Web site, which I guess indicates that Tralliance used it as part of their effort to persuade ICANN that they had a viable business plan.

At PhoCusWright's annual Travel Executive Conference last November (Tralliance wasn't there, which is a sign of how out of touch they are with the the real movers and shakers of the Internet travel industry), Bill Carroll told me he was surprised that Tralliance had his report on their Web site, and even more suprised that Tralliance thought it supported their argument for ".travel".

Carroll said he was" skeptical" about how Tralliance's accreditation scheme for travel businesses would be received by buyers of travel services: "The question is whether the consumer will have confidence in whomever is doing [the accreditation] that this is a legitimate travel company." Whether Tralliance can establish that consumer confidence -- or displace those who already have it -- remains an open question.

Later in the 2005 PhoCusWright conference, Carroll gave me the microphone to put the key question directly to Jane Butler, head of of travel for Google. In her closing keynote, Butler -- the world's largest-volume travel advertising salesperson -- pointed out that consumers are now using "search" instead of traditional (advertising) media to find travel Web sites.

So what did she think, I asked, of the likelihood that people will switch from using Google to using Tralliance's .travel directory to search for travel services. "Are you at all concerned about them as a potential competitor? Or is Tralliance just smoking crack?"

"There's a lot more interest [in ".travel"] from Tralliance than from consumers", Butler said after a brief pause and a sound somewhere between a laugh and a snort of derision. "I absolutely don't consider [Tralliance] a competitor".

Link | Posted by Edward on Sunday, 26 February 2006, 18:53 ( 6:53 PM) | TrackBack (0)
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