Industry insiders plan travel search engine

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NORWALK, Conn. -- Former key officials in Orbitz, Travelocity, Expedia and Intuit plan to launch a travel search engine by the end of the month that will allow consumers to probe multiple supplier and online agency Web sites to shop for air, hotel, car and cruise bookings.

The forces behind Kayak Software [www.kayak.com] believe they have the industry knowledge, the technology and financing to become a force in the meta search arena, which they view as the next stage in online travel.

Kayak received its initial financing from General Catalyst Partners, a venture capital firm in Boston that also invested in NLG and of which former Travelocity CEO Terry Jones is a special venture partner.

Jones is the chairman of Kayak Software, which is headquartered here and has technology teams in Bangalore, India, and Maynard, Mass. The co-founder and CEO is Steve Hafner, former executive vice president of consumer travel at Orbitz. The other co-founder and the chief technology officer is Paul English, the ex-vice president of technology at Intuit, the software company behind Quicken and TurboTax.

Greg Slyngstad, former senior vice president of destinations and lodging at Expedia, is a director and investor. 

English told TravelWeekly.com that 70% of travel buyers on the Web search multiple sites before they book, and need better tools to facilitate the hunt.

Enter Kayak. He said if Kayak doesnt have a relationship with a supplier, then it will access the content through an online agency.

Once users view the search results, they will have several booking options. If they click on inventory from a Kayak business partner, the consumer will be transported directly into the partners shopping cart, English said.

If you choose a booking option [from someone] who is not yet a partner, we might drop you off to a different place in the search/select/pay cycle, he added.

Orbitz and Hotels.com were among the online agencies advertising last week on the Kayak preview site. Kayak has about 30 employees. A technology team in India developed the search technology and user interface.

With distribution costs a contentious issue, Kayak will offer suppliers and agencies low-cost alternatives, English said.

Kayaks business model is similar to Googles in that it is based on a cost per click, English said. The supplier or online agency pays only when a user clicks to book.

We believe a huge part of Googles business is from travel, English said.

Kayaks technology team in Maynard, Mass., meanwhile, is working on a second product to make the vacation-shopping experience more interactive and comprehensive, English said. Consumer reviews, chat and Internet telephony are part of the mix, he said.

To contact reporter Dennis Schaal, send e-mail to [email protected]ntmllc.com.

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