FAIRFAX, Va. -- Omega World Travel, the country's 10th largest
agency in the 1999 Travel Weekly Top 50 listings, put up a Web site
called Top9.com that really has nothing to do with travel.
Created by an Omega division also called Top9.com, it ranks the
top Internet sites in a variety of categories, including travel,
according to their popularity with on-line consumers.
Popularity is determined by PC Data of Reston, Va., which uses
meters on computers in some 85,000 households to monitor Internet
viewing and shopping habits and has a five-year contract to provide
its data to Top9.com.
Although Omega is a travel agency, its new site will be
competing not against the Travelocities and Preview Travels of the
world, but against other search engines and directories, including
some of the biggest and most well-known ones like Yahoo!.
It's a David and Goliath situation, but that doesn't appear to
intimidate Dan Bohan, chief operating officer of Omega and
president of Top9.com.
Top9.com, which will make money from advertisers, plans to stand
out from the crowd by making it easy for on-line consumers to find
and link quickly to the best Web sites in whatever category
Top9.com is designed to minimize the length of each visit rather
than keep visitors on line for as long as possible. By enabling
consumers to get the job done quicker, "we think we can become as
popular as the major search directories; they really don't want to
make things simple," Bohan said.
Cruise.com was Omega's first consumer Web venture, and Bohan
thinks it makes perfect sense now to venture outside of the travel
industry. "It's part of our philosophy of dispersion, of using our
talents in [other] areas. Diversification is the name of the
"Travel is complicated. If you can understand that, you can
understand a lot of other areas," he said.
That's not to say that Omega will be avoiding the Web travel
space. Omega has a cache of 3,000 Internet domain names that it
purchased several years ago for about $100 apiece, including many
that could be identified specifically with the hotel, tour and
cruise businesses, he said.
Crowded as the Web travel field may be, Bohan believes there is
plenty of room for more and better sites.
Overall, travel was only the 11th most popular category among 16
broad categories ranked on Top9.com, he noted.
Bohan said the Top9.com division will be a "Web incubator" that
will build new sites, some that are travel specific and others that
are not, and turn the most successful ones into publicly traded
companies with employee stock ownership.
Bohan hopes as soon as possible to do an initial public offering
of Top9.com, and he plans to take Cruise.com public as well.