Internet site takes virtual hotel tours to another level

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People planning a trip to Miami Beach now can scope out hotels before they book by taking virtual tours at SuperTour.com, a Web site that provides indoor and outdoor views of properties in the city.

SuperTour allows you to get something close to a try-it-before-you-book-it experience, said SuperTour CEO Jim Schoonmaker.

Whats the beach like? The pool? The restaurant? Are the rooms comfortable and large?

SuperTour.com uses the standard, 360-degree photos that many travel sites use.

But what makes the site next generation, Schoonmaker said, is its digital walk-through capabilities.

The traditional notion of a virtual tour is that youve got a map, and you can spin around and see something, said Schoonmaker. That technology has been around a while, but its not really the experience of being there.

Through technology Schoonmaker called panamorph, SuperTour enables users to move beyond the 360-degree globe to another point of observation.

We allow you to walk through the space, said Schoonmaker. You experience the transition between different globes.

Schoonmaker asserts that the increased mobility of the virtual tour lends visitors a sense of confidence because they can see beyond a small set of canned pictures that hotel management wants you to see.

On SuperTour.com, users can walk from place to place on hotel grounds.

The system also enables users to walk down Ocean Drive or onto the beach. In addition to hotels, the database includes a number of restaurants, museums and attractions, all of which can be explored.

The screen displays a map on the right panel and an eye-level view on the left. The map shows the location, the direction of the current view, the location of other observation globes and the routes between them.

An Information Kiosk is provided for each hotel. Clicking Overview provides a hotel description on Expedia. Reviews opens up reviews from Trip Advisor. When the subject is a restaurant, the system provides multiple reviews from Frommers, AOL CityGuide or other sources.

If the user clicks on Rooms and Rates the system offers a choice of going to Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz or the hotels own booking engine to compare prices or to book a room.

Travel agencies with Web sites can work out arrangements with SuperTour to link to the site and enable their Web clients to book through the agency site so agents can earn commissions, although the amount of the commission must be negotiated privately with SuperTour.

Even without negotiating a partnership with SuperTour, travel agents can use the system to take their clients on virtual tours of hotels, then book them any way they want. There is no charge for using the site.

At the moment, I think that travel agents are going to benefit more than we will, Schoonmaker said. The content is there. We can use their IATA number and work with them to share the commission structure. We are already hooking up with some of the larger firms.

SuperTour started building its client list in Miami Beach, where it now works with 100 hotels. About a third of them have the full walk-through capability.

The company also works with about 100 hotels in Las Vegas. It launched at the end of March in Puerto Rico with 30 to 40 hotels and plans to cover 15 to 20 of the most popular Caribbean destinations by the end of the year.

To contact reporter David Cogswell, send e-mail to [email protected].

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