Travelocity is operating a booking engine
on the State of Maryland's tourism Web site and is paying a
commission to the state for every sale.
"It isn't the
traditional state office of tourism function," said Dennis
Castleman, director of the Maryland Office of Tourism. "But I
believe this is the future of what state tourism offices will do.
It is another step in using technology that is available to provide
more information and more service to our customer."
Castleman said the
state earns commission on each Travelocity sale on the
The booking engine
enables consumers seeking travel and vacation information about
Maryland to book air tickets, car rentals, hotel accommodations and
admission to attractions. The engine went live on Aug. 25 at www.visitmaryland.org.
"The idea behind it
is that we make sure that we drive as many tourists and travelers
to Maryland as possible," Castleman said.
Maryland is the
third state to form a partnership with Travelocity. Travelocity
said it has similar
arrangements with the Kentucky and Louisiana tourism
agreement also encompasses local tourism bureaus in Baton Rouge,
Lafayette, New Orleans and Shreveport.
isn't the first for site
The Maryland site
is no stranger to booking engines. "We have a booking engine from
Ocean City [a beach resort on the state's Eastern Shore] and one
[powered by Worldspan] through the Maryland Hotel Lodging
Association. It has been on our site for years," Castleman
The Web site
attracts nearly 90,000 unique visitors each month, according to the
The decision to
team up with Travelocity comes at time when more travelers are
turning to the Internet to plan trips.
According to the
Travel Industry Association, 78% of Americans researched and booked
travel on the Internet in 2005, up from 65% the year
At the same time,
the Maryland/Travelocity union also underscores how much the travel
marketing environment has changed over the years.
In the 1990s, when
many states launched tourism Web sites, a few toyed with developing
consumer booking capabilities and often met with strong, negative
reaction from travel agents and tour operators.
In 1998, for
example, the California Travel & Tourism Commission launched a
booking system accessible by its Web site and toll-free phone
lines. It exasperated travel agents who said they were promised it
would include an agent referral system.
to steal clients
But Castleman said
Maryland wasn't attempting to compete with agents or tour
operators. "I don't see it as a competitive problem," he
apparently, do agents and operators.
business and everything else, it's a whole different ballgame than
10 years ago," said Judith Thomas, the chairman and CEO of the
National Tourism Association and president of Unlimited Tours and
Travel of St. Louis. "It's sort of like the nonprofits of 10 years
ago that used to be a hot topic at NTA. You have to learn to work
with them, not against them."
Thomas did not see
the Travelocity partnership as a threat to tour operator business.
"We are finding that people go online to get information, but then
they want to talk to a real person," she said.
Indicative of the
blurring of categories in the last 10 years, Travelocity is a
member of the NTA.
operators should try to get their links on the site," Thomas said.
"I understand that they can."
The theory behind
putting a booking engine on a tourist board site, said Bill
Maloney, COO of ASTA, is that "when consumers go on the site and
get the information and there is no way to make a reservation, the
destination may lose the sale and people may go somewhere
But the fact that
there is no way for travel agents to get in on the action could
have "unintended consequences" if travel agents perceive the state
as unfriendly to the distribution system, Maloney said.
"So when a client
says, 'I want to go to Maryland,' an agent might say, 'Why go to
Maryland? Why not go to New York?'"
Although the U.S.
Tour Operators Association vigorously opposed a Web booking engine
operated by the Irish Tourist Board a few years ago, USTOA
President Bob Whitley had no objection to the Maryland
"The problem we had
with the Ireland site was a government entity using taxpayer money
to compete with the private sector and creating an unfair
advantage," he said.
Whitley did have
questions about the functionality of the Maryland engine, after
clicking on the home page's most prominent link for "Best Deals"
and finding himself in Travelocity's inventory of packages "to
Cancun, Orlando and every other place in the world but only one to
Maryland," he said. "It doesn't promote Maryland."
Collette Tours' CFO
John Galvin likewise saw no threat in the Travelocity
"From where we are,
it's not a big issue, because ultimately people are going on the
site to learn about the destination. The site only offers air,
hotel and cars, so it's not competing with escorted tours," he
On the other hand,
offering commissionable booking on the site to travel agencies
might also bring more business to the state, Galvin
multiple agencies would seem to be strategically wise," he
president of Mayflower Tours, said he had little information on the
Maryland site, but "I always get nervous when government enters the
realm of private industry. Any government that does has to be
careful that they have examined the ramifications of selecting one
private enterprise over another to promote."
contact the reporters who wrote this article, send e-mail to
Michael Milligan at [email protected] or David Cogswell at