Customers are demanding the chance to do their own research and review their options personally instead of relying on travel agents, said Ron Pernick, Preview Travel spokesman, which also offers services via America Online.
Internet-based travel services are also creating a niche for themselves by offering last-minute travel bargains. Various travel Web sites and even the airlines themselves are sending notices of low-priced fares and accommodations each week by e-mail.
These bargains are designed to fill airline seats or hotel rooms that would otherwise sit empty. These messages can be targeted at interested buyers and delivered quickly by e-mail. For example, TravelWeb at http://www.travelweb.com offers a regular listing of "Click-It Weekends" where Web users can view special prices on weekend hotel stays and then instantly make reservations.
"That's the one thing that has really, really excited me about the medium. Most major airlines now have some soft of e-mail system and once a week they'll e-mail you a list of flights for the upcoming weekend that are deeply discounted," said Kirby of Interactive Travel Report.
"For travelers, I think it's a great deal. I could see myself just planning on going away for a weekend sometime and not planning on where until the last minute. And I think the Internet is the only way you can do that," he said.
Some in the on-line travel industry hope they can bridge the gap between their services and those offered by traditional travel agencies by combining the best elements of both.
A good example is Uniglobe Travel, a leading chain of travel agencies that is creating a mega-site on the World Wide Web. Michael Dauberman, vice president for Uniglobe's Web operations, said the company bills its services as "high tech, high touch."
The idea, said Dauberman, is to highlight both the technological advantages of the Web site and the personal services offered by the hundreds of Uniglobe travel offices around the world. "We wanted to give the customer the choice. We wanted the customer to be met in their comfort zone," he said.
— The Hartford Courant
In our frenzied search for a holiday paradise, few of us stop to think about the numerous pitfalls which litter these well-trodden avenues.
And, although the fruits of the once-in-a-lifetime deal may well be sweeter, you might just as easily find yourself turning in desperation to the consumer watchdogs with tales of how they swindled you over the hotel, the buses never turned up and now you want your money back.
We know from childhood that every good piece of advice goes unheeded but nevertheless we offer them religiously to every holidaymaker who turns to the services of a tour operator.
But this is the way of the world: the signalman will keep waving his little red flag right up to the moment that the train derails and thunders into oblivion.
We asked the advice of Svetlana Vasilyevskaya, general director of the association for tourist development programs and head of the body issuing certificates to tourist agencies.
A good company which holds not only a license but also a certificate (mandatory certification was introduced in Russia on July 1, 1995) should give you four separate documents upon receiving payment for a package holiday.
• A receipt showing that the payment has gone through.
• A detailed breakdown of the tour indicating what kind of transport is being provided for the holiday, a transfer coupon (or you'll have to get from the airport to your hotel at your own expense), the name of the hotel, the conditions of board and lodging and finally, the excursion program.
Moreover, you can't necessarily rely on the "star rating" of the hotel or on the phrase, "a room with all mod cons." "All mod cons" are a mini bar, cable TV and an air conditioner (the service they usually offer our tourists is "standard conveniences" which is actually perfectly satisfactory). Note that the brochures like to bandy around jargon such as B&B (bed and breakfast) and HP (half pension).
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