he European Travel Commission has done a lot of good things for its member countries and for the U.S. tour operators and travel agents who book most of the 13 million American travelers who crossed the Atlantic this year.

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But, like many destination promotional bodies, the ETC wants to cover all of its bases. Thus, at the recent Transatlantic Travel Marketing Conference in New York, ETC chairman Einar Gustavsson popped a little surprise by mentioning that the 30-nation promotional body wants to make its Web site a "major booking site" for consumers.

The details are sketchy because negotiations are ongoing, but the idea is to partner with an on-line booking service such as Travelocity, which would have a direct link on the ETC's site, Visiteurope.com. The ETC assures agents that consumers who want to find a local travel agent will be able to do so with an enhanced search function. Agents who want their listings to include a Web link will be able to do so.

Gustavsson said one of his goals for 2001 is to "reach millions more Americans likely to consider a transatlantic trip." From what we can tell, the ETC's Web strategy doesn't look like a slam-dunk plan for generating that kind of business. More likely, it will move a little market share for one lucky on-line travel company.

The ETC's Web site attracts unique visitors at the rate of less than 1 million a year. That may grow in the years ahead, but, at the current level of usage, and at current look-to-book ratios, harnessing that Web site to drive bookings is a bit like hooking up a plow horse to a Ferrari: the U.S. travel industry already is delivering 13 million annual visitors to Europe, and this year's peak season traffic was up 15%, without an ETC-sponsored booking option on the Web.

We won't go so far as to say, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." But we will say this: "Save the last dance for the person who brought you to the party."

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