America Online will unveil on Monday a preview version of the travel information search site it announced in November in partnership with Kayak Software, maker of a travel search engine.
With the site, called Pinpoint Travel, AOL aims to tap into the growing market of online travel, in which users increasingly demand functionality to search airfare and hotel options, says Jeff DeKorte, vice president and general manager of AOL Travel.
There are two types of online travel buyers: one is loyal to a particular travel site, while the other likes to shop around and search for the best deals. Pinpoint Travel has been designed to serve the latter type of buyer, DeKorte says.
"This other group is really very different. They lack brand loyalty. They don't use just one site all the time. Instead, price and convenience are the main criteria guiding their search," DeKorte says.
The travel information contained in Pinpoint Travel isn't unilaterally harvested by AOL and Kayak from travel Web sites; instead, AOL and Kayak have struck deals with all of the travel sites whose information is featured in Pinpoint Travel. Revenue streams are varied and include advertising, pay-for-inclusion and pay-for-placement, he says.
Pinpoint Travel will contain flight and hotel information from over 100 travel Web sites, 550 airlines, and 85,000 hotels, he said. Its goal is to help buyers find merchants, not sell directly to them, DeKorte says.
This is why AOL views Pinpoint Travel as a complement to AOL's own online travel channel, which sells travel products to its clients, he says. AOL's travel channel is available to AOL subscribers in the company's proprietary service and to Web surfers in general from various AOL Web sites.
Pinpoint Travel, however, will not feature information from large travel sites run by Orbitz, Travelocity.com, and Expedia, because each declined to have its listings included. Ironically, AOL's travel channel is run in partnership with Travelocity.com.
The decision by these big players took DeKorte by surprise, because Pinpoint Travel, he says, has been designed for the underserved type of online travel buyers who aren't loyal to brands and are looking for better search technology to assist them.
"We're fine with their decision, but I'm a little surprised though. We want to go after that audience that isn't being served and capture its attention," DeKorte says. "But if [Orbitz, Travelocity, and Expedia] don't want to play, I respect that. I understand this is a new model and there is some trepidation about it."
Ultimately, DeKorte trusts Pinpoint Travel will succeed, as a Web site that caters to users craving a good search engine for travel products.
The site will be open to all Web visitors, not just AOL members, during the preview, or beta, period, and after it is launched in final form a few months down the road, he says.
This is in keeping with AOL's recent strategy of increasingly offering content and services to Web users in general, instead of only to subscribers to its fee-based proprietary online service, DeKorte says.