The era of RSS

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The Internet changed the travel industry forever by enabling consumers to book their own air, hotels and vacation packages. Today, consumers are more empowered than ever to take charge of their own travel reservations. Many are bypassing traditional travel agents and using the Internet to make plans for their business trips or vacations.

Henry Harteveldt of Forrester Research estimates that in the U.S., about $63.6 billion, or 57%, of leisure and unmanaged business travel was purchased online in 2005.

He estimates that the figure will climb to $74.4 billion, or 65% of the entire travel market, this year.

While the idea of booking your own travel seems simple, it is still a time-consuming task. There are many travel sites, and while most offer discounts, the rates and availability often vary from site to site. Statistics continue to show that people surf several sites before making a purchase.

In fact, 44% of people buying travel check two to five sites before making a final decision. Frequent travelers stand to spend many hours comparing deals and finding the best rates.

Really Simple Syndication (RSS) enables consumers to have content from any site directly fed through an RSS reader in a blog, on a My Yahoo home page or in any other application that understands the RSS format.

Online travel publishers such as BookingBuddy are making their content available to consumers via RSS feeds.

RSS has been called automated Web surfing because the technology does something lots of people do: It visits multiple travel sites looking for deals.

Online travel sites that utilize RSS provide time-sensitive travel information to consumers wherever, whenever and however they need it.

RSS feeds can highlight a variety of information, including air fares, discounts, hotel offers, bundled vacation packages, car rental discounts and special cruise packages. Travel-focused RSS feeds enable consumers to stay up-to-date with information on their favorite destinations and on discounted fares.

Given that RSS feeds are becoming easier to find and subscribe to, and that more and more online services are becoming RSS-enabled, consumers who want a relationship with a travel company will increasingly subscribe to RSS.

As the technology continues to be adopted by travel sites and consumers, RSS will provide many benefits, including:

• Saving time in the planning process. In a sense, RSS acts as a personal travel agent. Consumers sign up for a specific travel feed such as air fares on flights from a specific airport or vacation package deals for a preferred destination. These feeds are usually updated throughout the day.

Once the desired fare, destination or vacation package is offered, the consumer will see the deal via their personalized home page or reader and proceed directly to the site with the offer to further evaluate the travel deal.

• Finding the best deals. When travel deals and bargains are advertised, they often quickly sell out.

With RSS, consumers are pushed new deals for which they have set up feeds, offering them an opportunity to buy before the deals are gone.

• Staying on budget. Business executives responsible for making their own travel plans and families making vacation plans often have to stay within a budget.

Finding the exact flight or vacation package within budget parameters is time-consuming and seems almost impossible at times. RSS feeds alert consumers to specific fares on flights and cruises and specific rates on hotel and vacation packages.

Will RSS become the ultimate application for the travel industry?

It will definitely become more mainstream this year, helping to reduce the number of e-mailed alerts and newsletters to which consumers must subscribe.

In the short term, consumers and travel companies will experiment with RSS. Google and Yahoo have already embraced the technology, and Microsoft will soon introduce an RSS reader integrated within its new browser, making it simpler to use.

Krista Pappas is the senior vice president of SmarterTravel, the parent company of BookingBuddy, and senior vice president and chief strategist of Smarter Living.

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