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Tours.com - The link to Web traffic - By Bus Ride Magazine

The link to Web traffic
Internet listings reach out to more customers
Busride Magazine - Maria Jolly

There's no doubt that the power of the Internet can help enlarge your customer base beyond your geographic boundaries. Linking from one Web site to another helps to further expand your reach in just one mouse click.

One site offering a free basic listing with links to an operator's business is tours.com, the Worldwide Directory of Tours and Vacation Packages, (WDT). Up and running since 1995, Maria Polk, president and chief executive officer, says she has 5,000 operators signed up and receives Web site hits from 500,000 people every two weeks.

"There are a lot of motorcoach tours that are available that are just really, really nice, but they are very hard to find. The companies market more on a regional basis, but now they can pretty much have their information displayed 24 hours a day," she says.

Polk says it is easy to sign up. Her staff always double-checks the site, so operators can never really make a mistake when filling in their information.

She says consumers who log on can do a keyword search that will take them to a particular tour they may be looking for in a specific place. For example, she says if someone wants to go to California, they can type in California and all applicable operators will come up. However, if someone wants to do a winery tour in California, the search engine can narrow down the fields. "We do what a tour operator can't do. We continuously market tours and vacation packages as a whole. We are truly an online publication versus a print publication that you can never publish because it's updated daily and available seven days a week," she says. "We are a tremendous research tool, where people will browse and look and see what companies are available and what tours and vacation packages are available."

According to statistics from the Travel Industry Association of America, the number of Americans using the Internet for travel planning has increased dramatically since 1997, from 12 million Americans who were planning and researching travel options online to about 64 million online travel planners in 2002.

"Greater use of the Internet seems to be changing travel patterns in other ways as well," says Dr. Suzanne Cook, senior vice president of research for TIA. "The enhanced accessibility of last minute specials via the Internet, as well as low prices on last minute travel, is stimulating later booking patterns."

Polk spreads the word about her site to consumers via travel writers. Through her print exposure, she says more and more consumers are logging on and researching vacation options through her Web site.

"We are a logical brand. Because we have been up since 1995, we have gone through the test of time of the dotcoms. We've been pretty stable. You can have a Web site, but sometimes it's not good unless people can find it. So we are a really good resource for motorcoach tour operator's and charter companies."

Polk says operators can choose an enhanced listing for a cost of $595 a year. In that case, an operator's name and logo will rotate at the top of the listings. For more information, visit www.tours.com.


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