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Travel Agents Tap Internet Social Network

Although the popular Internet site www.danae.gr has nothing to do with "supplement" Internet technology, a portion of its thousands of weekly visits for ferry bookings is the result of blog recommendations.

Although the popular Internet site www.danae.gr has nothing to do with “supplement” Internet technology, a portion of its thousands of weekly visits for ferry bookings is the result of blog recommendations.

Amid the rapidly changing social-networking on the Internet, a growing number of travel agents and industry leaders are tapping into new technological “supplements” to reach out to get the attention of on-the-go clients.

While blogs and podcasts have been around for several years, their use is increasingly growing. Analysts estimate that next year around 100 million bloggers will be active online. While there are no definitive statistics on the exact number of travel blogs on the global Internet, a Google search turns up 128 million in less than a second; 38 million travel podcasts turn up.

Bruce Fisher, founder and co-owner of Honolulu-based Hawaii Aloha Travel (hawaii-aloha.com), recently launched an Internet blog as well as 12-minute podcasts – “The Hawaii Vacation Connection” http://feeds.feedburner.com/HawaiiVacationConnection).

Launched last April, the podcasts now get about 300 downloads a day, he said. Neither efforts were in his original marketing plan.

“For us, we’ve had to refresh our entire marketing plan to reflect blogs and podcasts and to keep pace with the fast pace of the Internet,” he said.

Short for “Web logs,” blogs are simple Internet sites that highlight your running commentary on travel – everything from the best cruise deals to a first-person experience at a luxury spa.

Scott Ahlsmith, president of Magellan Travel Group, likens blogs to a running conversation between you and your clients or prospects. And the advantages include the low cost, increased contact with clients and the ease – most are much easier to set up and maintain than a full-blown agency Web site.

Mr Ahlsmith recently launched YOU! The Brand – a new blog service that offers agents help in setting up their own blogs. The service offers nearly three-dozen templates from which to choose the blog “interface” that can be changed at any time. The service costs about $50 a month, or $479 prepaid for a year, and includes content, a weekly podcast and a personal Web domain name.

Nolan Burris, founder of Visionistics, and an advocate of travel blogs, says that “this isn’t a place to blatantly sell your stuff, but you can put links to your Web site within your reviews and place ads that link to your Web site. He says this will definitely help your Google rankings, but keep in mind that blog readers can spot a thinly veiled sales pitch in a heartbeat.”

Podcasts also are growing in popularity as the multimedia presentations use syndication feeds to offer users the ability to download and play them on everything from mobile devices to personal computers.

Virgin Atlantic offers downloadable podcasts (virginatlantic.loudish.com) that highlight destinations from New York City and Las Vegas to Shanghai and Dubai. And noting Americans’ busy schedules, a fitness destination spa in Ojai, Calif., also has launched a series of podcasts in what may be a first from the industry of health-oriented destination spas.

Separately, a recent survey, the 2007 Holiday Online Planning Report by market research company Continental Research, found that of the total UK adult population, more than 20 million will use the internet to source information about some element of their main holiday. Sixteen million will use the internet to seek information about short breaks.

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