AOL Unveils Pinpoint Travel Search

America Online is expected to debut its standalone ad-supported travel search site, Pinpoint Travel, on Monday. It will leverage partner Kayak.com’s technology and eventually, AOL’s ad sales force.

AOL hopes the site, currently in beta, will allow it to capitalize on an audience of online travel buyers who check three or four sites before making a purchase. It says it already serves brand-loyal consumers through its partnership with Travelocity. Travelocity is the exclusive travel provider on AOL, AOL.com, Compuserve and Netscape, at least through March of next year.

“I would imagine that for the short term anyway, people will continue to search multiple sites, because we in the travel industry have trained them that they have to search three or four sites to get the best deal,” said Jeffrey DeKorte, VP and general manager of AOL Travel. Eventually, DeKorte hopes searchers will learn they only have to search one or two. He predicts Pinpoint Travel will be one of them.

Advertisers seeking to reach those people through Pinpoint Travel will initially have to go through Kayak.com, which is testing a bidding engine for hospitality marketers. But DeKorte said AOL will likely start cross-selling the site to its clients, as well. (AOL is a minority owner of Kayak.com.)

“As Kayak does a lot of these sales calls, AOL is participating in the sales process and may supplement the sale process at some point in the near future,” said DeKorte. “Kayak is a small start-up with a business team of five people. AOL is an enormous marketing organization with hundreds of salespeople. We can really provide some power to them.”

All ads on the site are sold on a pay-per-click basis. The company is offering two right-hand column ad units on flight search results pages. Below that, and on hotel results pages, sponsored links will appear. Those will be supplied by Kayak.com’s ad bidding system, with Google AdSense ads filling in until the company builds up sufficient inventory. Advertisers can also influence their rankings on hotel results pages by submitting a higher per-click bid.

AOL will be promoting Pinpoint Travel by adding a travel search tab to its search offering. It will also run house ads across AOL Media Network sites, which the company says attract 100 million unique visitors monthly. AOL is also considering running an advertising campaign for the site later this year.

“We expect a significant amount of traffic,” said DeKorte. “We expect there will be enough traffic to make this a profitable business by the end of the year.”

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