The dot-travel domain was finally launched earlier this year. But what impact has it had so far? David Bicknell finds out who the early adopters are and how the industry views its future
Just about got used to the idea of dot-com? Time to start thinking of dot-travel too, because the first websites using the dot-travel domain name are already up-and-running.
The dot-travel ‘top-level domain’ – which in web terms, puts ‘.travel’ on the same level as ‘.com. or ‘.org’ – has been designed for businesses involved in the travel industry, and only for those in the travel industry. Companies who want to register have to be authenticated as being travel companies.
Typically, that would mean airlines, tour operators, bed and breakfasts or hotels.
The need for dot-travel has been largely driven by the availability of dot-com names rapidly being used up, and although many familiar names with a dot-com suffix – Lastminute.com, Expedia.com, BA.com – are jealously protecting their brands, the registry responsible for administering the domain, Tralliance, insists that dot-travel is as much for the future as now.
Tralliance says familiar names that have registered dot-travel include hotel group Marriott and Disney. Expedia and British Airways have also signed up, though BA remains focused on dot-com
“We have registered dot-travel, but it is only one of a number of domain names we’ve registered. Our primary brand on the web is BA.com, and it will continue to be so for many years,” says a British Airways spokesman.
Other travel organisations, such as Cosmos Holidays, have also registered dot-travel, with half-an-eye on the future. IT director Alister Beveridge says: “Cosmos has registered dot-travel, as have our worldwide businesses. But we’re not sure how this will progress.
“It could make it easier in future for consumers to search for travel-related products. In the meantime, it is important for us to ensure we have everything in place to take advantage of any developments.”
The reality is that many of those who have registered dot-travel have so far done it to protect their brand, and prevent so-called ‘cybersquatters’ hijacking a domain name, and then demanding thousands of pounds to ‘sell’ it back to the brandholder.
That is perhaps why ‘authentication providers’, such as ABTA, have been carrying out an authentication service for all dot-travel registrations.
Perhaps the most far-seeing organisation for dot-travel so far is the Canadian Tourism Commission, which has set itself up with a new e-marketing strategy, and a role as a broker, to “connect and create liaisons between buyer and seller, traveller and supplier”.
The CTC has been an early backer of dot-travel, and ultimately wants to create a ‘Canada.travel’ portal, which, when operational, will “forever change the way Canadian tourism destinations will be managed and marketed”.
To that end, it has encouraged Canadian travel destinations to secure their dot-travel names. This will certainly help when consumers want to use a search engine, such as Google, for potential destinations.
Tralliance and the United Nations World Tourism Organisation recently extended a deadline until the end of 2006 for so-called ‘place names’ – cities, heritage sites, national parks – to be claimed and registered as dot-travel domains by their governments.
The Canadian tourism industry believes it will be the first country destination in the world to fully embrace the dot-travel concept, using it specifically to build an e-brand and a domestic tourism portal.
However, other organisations are not so keen. The Forrester research group describes dot-travel as “nice, but not necessary”, adding that dot-travel is an annoying inconvenience, “like a mosquito buzzing around your picnic”. It expects three groups to benefit: the sponsor, Tralliance; destination marketing organisations (such as the Canadian Tourism Commission); and small niche travel firms.
Forrester believes that although dot-travel will earn a chunk of registration fees for Tralliance – the “street price” of dot-travel domains ranges from $99 to $250 – the domain won’t take off because, it says, firstly, the accreditation process is flawed. Secondly, plans by Tralliance to create a dot-travel directory won’t overcome general search engines, such as Google. Thirdly, Forrester suggests there’s no benefit to established travel companies in rebranding from dot-com. And, finally, most consumers won’t change their long-held familiarity with dot-com sites
However, Forrester believes that for smaller players that can’t afford to invest in branding and advertising campaigns, dot-travel offers an opportunity to provide clarity and focus. Typical companies might be smaller independent businesses, such as niche agencies, or local tour or activity operators.
The success of dot-travel may well depend on the success of these types of companies. Although it is possible that British Airways, Expedia and Lastminute.com etc may embrace the new domain, their investment in their dot-com brands means they are more likely to be dot-travel followers than leaders.
However, some UK organisations have already embraced dot-travel. ABTA head of corporate affairs Keith Betton says around 250 agents – nearly 10% of ABTA’s 2,000-odd members – have been authenticated to get their dot-travel domain name.
“It’s not our job to say if dot-travel is a good idea or not, but you’d be pretty fed up if someone tried to nick your domain name,” says Betton.
Tralliance says the number of travel ‘sectors’ opened up to registration is shortly due to be increased, with travel insurance businesses and travel training institutions now being considered, alongside existing categories that include airlines, bed-and-breakfast houses, car-rental companies, travel technology providers, ferry operators, hotels/resorts/casinos, national tourism offices, train operators, tour operators and travel agents.
However, despite the negativity in some quarters, Tralliance president and chief executive Ron Andruff remains upbeat about dot-travel’s future.
“When we started this project our mindset was to think global, and only five months after the launch on January 29, it’s clear we got it right. We are now in the early stages of building awareness throughout the travel sector, and we will extend that to the consumer. We won’t be in time for the World Cup, but you’ll see dot-travel ready for the Olympics in China in 2008,” he says.
“There has been a lot of interest in dot-travel from Canada, Egypt and Singapore and companies such as Disney. Egypt has created an egypt.travel portal, and in the US, the state of Arizona has renamed its Nascar motor race, the Arizona.travel 200.
“Europe has been slow, and we want to ensure that there are more English dot-travel entities with their name in the dot-travel directory when it is ready.”
Andruff adds that a dot-travel directory is already available, with a beta version of a dot-travel search engine due to be ready within weeks.
“The Internet is always evolving. For example, before long, there’ll be another top-level domain for mobile devices, dot-mobi, going live in June. It’s not just about dot-com. We have to take the 100-year view on this.”
What is dot-travel? Dot-travel is the Internet top-level domain exclusively for businesses, organisations and individuals in the travel industry. Dot-travel will register domain names with the extension, ‘.travel’, for example, ‘discoveryholidays.travel’.
What is a Domain Name? A domain name is a label that represents a string of numbers called an ‘Internet Protocol (IP) address’. Domain names must be unique. Thus, for example, there can be only one ‘majestic.travel’.
What is a Top-Level Domain? A top-level domain is the word or letters that come after the last ‘dot’ in a domain name or Internet address. The most commonly known top-level domains are ‘.com’, ‘.net’ and ‘.org’. There are also country-specific top-level domains, such as ‘.uk’ for the UK and ‘.jp’ for Japan. Dot-travel has been given top-level domain status.
How do I get a dot-travel name? Only businesses and organisations that are part of the travel industry are entitled to hold and use a dot-travel domain name. Registering a dot-travel domain name is a two-step process. All registrants must first be authenticated by an Authentication Provider, such as ABTA in the UK. Once their eligibility is confirmed, a registrant is sent a Unique Identification Number. Holders of Dun and Bradstreet DUNS numbers can also gain authentication for a dot-travel domain name. Once you’re authenticated, there are a series of dot-travel registrars you can use, depending on location. The UK company NetNames is one of the options. See www.gtld.com/dottravel.php4.