Will the Web Replace Your Travel Agent?

By Murray, Dennis | Medical Economics, September 23, 1996 | Go to article overview

Will the Web Replace Your Travel Agent?


Murray, Dennis, Medical Economics


Why not! Using the Internet, you can research almost any destination, book hotel rooms, rent a car, and buy your plane tickets.

Thinking of taking the family to Italy? You could call your travel agent for a list of flights and prices, then contact the Italian tourism office and other sources for brochures on hotels and hot spots. Or, you could dig up all this information-and much more-from the comfort of your study, any time of the day or night.

How? Just use your computer to access the Internet's World Wide Web. There, you'll find everything from what to do in Portland, Ore., to how to reserve a kayak in Maine. Most states and major cities have their own tourism-related Web sites, and so do many hotels, airlines, rental-car companies, and attractions.

Start your search engines

To begin, you have to subscribe to a service that connects you to the Web, such as America Online, CompuServe, or Prodigy.

Once you're linked, you can simply type in the address of the Web site you want to explore-for instance, "http://www.disney.com" for Walt Disney World's site.

Don't have a specific address? Special sites on the Web, with names like Lycos, Magellan, and Yahoo!, contain search tools that will help you find the information you're after. (See below for the Web addresses of these and other sites mentioned in this article.) You merely enter a word or words describing a topic. Soon you'll see a list of related Web sites. To get to one of them, just click on its address or the underlined or highlighted words that describe it.

We put this sequence of steps to the test when an editor on our staff asked for information on barge cruises in France. We weren't optimistic we'd find anything that obscure, but when we used Lycos to search for "barge cruises, France," up popped the name of a Web site called "Great Outdoors Recreation Pages." It contained a listing for Rivers Odysseys West, a travel company that offers two such cruises. We clicked on the name, and found that our editor and her husband could either pilot their own boat or board a "luxury hotel barge" that offers sumptuous meals between stops at wineries and medieval villages.

As our barge search suggests, there's a Web site for just about any subject you can imagine. But because there's so much information available, finding what you want can be tricky. "Make your search as specific as possible," says Scott Bittle, technology editor for Travel Weekly, a trade newspaper published in Secaucus, N.J. "Otherwise, you'll get back more than you need and not necessarily what you want."

Create friendlier skies in cyberspace

Many Web sites offer extras you won't discover elsewhere. For example, American and Cathay Pacific airlines let customers bid, via E-mail, on seats that might otherwise go unsold. American also can send you an E-mail message each Wednesday about any lastminute deals on flights for the upcoming weekend.

But Web sites operated by individual travel companies can have limits. "A Web address for a specific airline, for instance, will give you only that carrier's best price which may not be the best deal out there," cautions David Love, a spokesman for the American Society of Travel Agents in Alexandria, Va. …

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