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World Heritage Sites Acquire Online Promotion

Expedia, the world’s largest online travel agency, last month announced a partnership with the United Nations Foundation to promote travel to World Heritage sites. The move is part of Expedia’s strategy to raise its international profile, provide more customized services and offer original content.

This follows a larger trend in online travel for websites to become comprehensive travel resources rather than just booking engines.

Of 812 World Heritage sites administered by Unesco, Expedia has vacation packages to 11 destinations and plans to add other sites after gaining official approvals.

Consumers can find information, photos and maps of the destinations, then book vacation packages with Expedia or with partner tour operators.

“We’ve wanted to do something like this for a long time,” said Timothy Wirth, president of UN Foundation. But forging a public-private partnership “has been exceedingly hard to do.”

Profits from the World Heritage trips booked on Expedia will be donated to Friends of World Heritage – a charity organization connected to Unesco – for investment in local community projects at World Heritage sites.

Other online travel players are also moving toward a more holistic approach to travel planning and booking. Yahoo last month launched a new service that draws on maps, guides and photos to stitch together disparate parts of the travel process.

But Expedia’s partnership with the UN Foundation draws on the cachet of the UN and the panache of world-renowned destinations, while branding itself as a supporter of sustainable tourism and local development.

The hope is that other travel industry players such as hotels, airlines and tour operators will join the newly-founded “World Heritage Alliance.”

Next year Expedia said that it would launch other initiatives that seek to differentiate its brand. Market research shows that consumers have little loyalty to online travel agencies and shop on multiple sites when booking travel.

The UN Foundation provides grants and builds public-private partnerships.

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