Travel Confidential: Meetings market next up for IAC?

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Michele McDonald.hat's next on the shopping list of Barry Diller's InterActiveCorp (IAC) in its quest to "own" the online travel sector? Some Barry-watchers say it's the meetings market, which would take IAC into what currently is the most (or the only?) robust area of business travel.

There is a crop of companies with online registration tools, online housing tools, online site-negotiation tools and a few companies that combine them all; the considerable consolidation among them of late indicates one or two might be ripe for the plucking.

As for Diller's possibly waning interest in interactive travel television, he actually had to be reminded that IAC owns the U.K.-based TV Travel Shop as he enumerated the units under Expedia's wing during a Goldman Sachs presentation the other day. Meanwhile, he revealed that IAC has earmarked a "decent-size" research and development fund to explore "things not being done by our business units."

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The Travel Industry Association plans to do for the National Park Service what it did for America's scenic byways. Betsy O'Rourke, the TIA's senior vice president of marketing, says the project will "mirror" the See America campaign on its Web site.

O'Rourke, who was at the Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International/New York University Marketing Strategy Conference, is hoping hoteliers who are reasonably close to parks, particularly the lesser-known ones, will get creative and design itineraries that can be included in the campaign.

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"Devastating" is how O'Rourke describes the potential impact of the Department of Homeland Security's plan to fingerprint and photograph every foreign visitor on every visit to the U.S. beginning next year. If you've ever spent time at a busy airport's international arrivals terminal at around 4 p.m., you have some idea of what she's talking about.

"We don't want to treat our visitors like criminals," she says. While we're at it, let's consider the reaction if some other country -- say, France -- decided to fingerprint every arriving U.S. citizen. Oh, yeah, that would go over well.

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Travel research guru Peter Yesawich of Yesawich Pepperdine Brown & Russell said he has "never seen a change of this magnitude in 12 months." The change in question: 58% of consumers believe they will find the best-branded travel alternative on the Internet, up from 38% a year ago. The bad news for travel agents -- 20% of consumers believe agents are the best source, down from 29%.

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Politics, once limited to veiled references at industry events, seems to be coming out of the closet: Yesawich noted that the current state of the travel industry is due, in part, to U.S. military ventures, "none of which came to a reasonable conclusion," and President Bush, who "has managed to raise the anxiety level" of U.S. travelers.

Lalia Rach, associate dean of New York University's Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management, noted that for the first time in her many years of international travel, she was hearing that "people don't want to visit the U.S. because of U.S. policies."

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Sam Galeotos' departure from Cendant Corp.'s Travel Distribution Services division may have seemed abrupt to outsiders, but people who work there say it was a planned departure, coinciding with the division's first anniversary. And Galeotos, who came to Cendant when it acquired Hawaii-based Cheap Tickets, is said to prefer the Aloha State to Parsippany, N.J. Imagine that.

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Sometimes, it absolutely pays to leave a company. Former Worldspan CEO Paul Blackney's consulting agreement pays $150,000 annually plus "annual living expenses" of $60,000. He also is entitled to pleasure-travel privileges on Delta and Northwest as well as other "miscellaneous" benefits. That's on top of his various severance bonuses and other compensation.

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