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The Sensible Traveler

Search engines look for customers -- and the sure bets

Email|Print| Text size + By Bruce Mohl
Globe Staff / November 6, 2005

To help spawn trip ideas, many travel websites are starting to offer detailed information on where their customers are going and what they are doing.

The information is hardly exhaustive, since it's based on what one company's customers are saying, and even those customers aren't necessarily representative of society in general. But the companies pulling the data together say consumers often get their travel ideas from what others are doing.

For example, the travel search engine Kayak.com has a new feature called Buzz, which provides a listing of the best fares to the 25 most-searched destinations from any airport.

From Logan International Airport last week, the most-searched destinations were almost all in warm-weather climates. Number one was Las Vegas, but the top 10 included five cities in Florida along with San Juan, Los Angeles, and Mexico City.

Gambling must be big everywhere, because Las Vegas was also the most-searched destination from Orlando International Airport and was among the top 10 destinations for the half-dozen departure cities I checked.

TripAdvisor.com, the Needham website, is constantly taking the pulse of its customers looking for trends.

''Think about it," said Christine Petersen, senior vice president of marketing for TripAdvisor. ''If you're out at a dinner party, travel is one of the first topics that comes up. People like to share experiences and learn from others."

The company last week took this notion to a whole new level, releasing a survey of 3,000 customers that yielded information on everything from where they want to go to what they take with them when they do go.

Petersen said one of the more interesting findings was that travelers, particularly American travelers, are becoming more ''germaphobic." She said slightly more than 20 percent of those surveyed reported that they take either their own linens, pillow, shower shoes, or disinfectant when they travel.

Asked where they would go if money were no object, Petersen said the overwhelming number of respondents selected Australia, Italy, and Hawaii.

''People are really sticking with the tried and true," she said.

The most popular vacation activities of those surveyed were sightseeing, shopping, and visiting a luxury spa -- with men selecting the latter almost as often as women.

The three most popular airlines of those surveyed were British Airways, American Airlines, and Virgin Atlantic. The least favorite was Delta Air Lines, which is currently operating under bankruptcy protection. Petersen said 40 percent of those displeased with Delta were participating in the Delta SkyMiles program.

TripAdvisor sent its e-mail survey to 8,000 customers from all over the world and received responses from 3,000. Of those, Petersen said, 58 percent were from the United States, with most of the rest from Europe, primarily the United Kingdom. She said 20 percent were under 30 years old and two-thirds had no children.

E-passports
The State Department is moving ahead with plans to issue what it calls E-passports, which are passports with a radio frequency identification tag inside that will allow customs officials to view the information electronically. The tag initially will contain the same information contained on the passport's data page, including the holder's name, nationality, gender, date and place of birth, and a digitized photo. The photo, in conjunction with facial recognition technology, will help verify the passport holder's identity.

To prevent personal data from being stolen, the cover and back of the passport will be made of material that State Department officials say will make it nearly impossible to get unauthorized access to the information.

E-passports will be issued first to government officials so that the system can be tested. The State Department expects that all new passports issued a year from now will contain the tags.

Contact Bruce Mohl at mohl@globe.com.

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