Resources abound for creating an agency site

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SECAUCUS, N.J. -- Whether to establish an agency Web presence or not is no longer much of an issue. The more fundamental question is, "How does one go about doing it?"

There are numerous companies -- including Crossover Consulting, OnlineAgency.com and TAedge -- that create basic sites for agencies and offer hosting and marketing services.

Most of these companies offer rudimentary templates that agencies can tweak and update to meet their requirements. One of the newest players to target the travel industry is StructuredWeb.

The privately held company, based here, released its Structuredtravel.com service several months ago. For about $50 per month, agencies can work quickly through a modular application to customize their own Web sites.

The cost also includes hosting services, marketing tools and some content. Among the features Structuredtravel.com offers are a link for Worldspan agency sites to the CRS firm's My Trip and More consumer itinerary service; nontravel-specific news feeds from Screaming Media, and vacation packages and promotions from Passport Online's VacationPort service (for an extra $8 per month).

In the near future, StructuredWeb said it plans to introduce cruise-booking functionality on the agency sites it creates through CruisePath (formerly GoCruiseDirect.com).

It also said it expects to offer Structuredtravel.com bundled with CruisePath at a promotional rate of about $100 per month.

Other than the future cruise-booking capability, Structuredtravel.com's agency sites offer no other online booking capabilities. However, integration with the CRSs is a goal, said StructuredWeb product manager Stuart Kerty.

But right now, when consumers visit an agency site and want to book a trip, they have to complete a form and e-mail it to the agency, he said.

That process is meant as a stopgap, Kerty said, before integration with the CRSs can be negotiated.

Gary Bilbao, an owner of travel technology firm TravelHub, which custom-builds agency and supplier sites, said booking functionality for agency Web sites is not a key issue.

"There is no money in it," he said, because Internet commissions are so low.

One way agencies can make money on line, Bilbao said, is to promote consolidators' fares on their sites and then book them off line.

One of StructuredWeb's key partners is Holiday Marketing, whose businesses include the Marketing Alliance for Retail Travel consortium and Traveler's Choice for non-ARC agents.

Holiday Marketing is promoting StructuredWeb technology to its agents under the brand Expertrip.com. The company's pricing of the product is considerably cheaper than StructuredWeb's rates.

Tom Ogg, the owner of agent-training company Tom Ogg & Associates in San Diego, said template-created agency sites might be the way to go "if an agent doesn't have a clue."

"But it's nuts to pay someone else to do it," he said, because Web publishing tools are so easy to use today that anyone can master them in a few hours.

In addition, Ogg said, agency sites need to promote their specialties in ways that mass-produced sites can't.

"Clients don't use the Internet like the Yellow Pages," he said. "Generic advertising is going to make work and not create business."

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