Forbes.com Unveils High-end Travel Site

For those tired of the riff raff loitering outside Yahoo Travel and Lonely Planet, Forbes.com has launched a new luxury travel guide and planning destination. The second of the business publisher’s offshoot sites, the travel guide has lured American Airlines, SkyAuction.com and Coldwell Banker as its first advertisers. In addition to articles, advice and reviews from Mobil and Frommer’s, the swanky site features airfare and lodging searches powered by SideStep, which unveiled a syndication platform earlier this week with ForbesTraveler.com as its first partner.

“We’re really making full use of the Forbes brand width,” said Forbes.com President and CEO James Spanfeller. Travel, like Forbes.com’s auto site affiliate ForbesAutos.com, “also very much relates to affluent lifestyle,” he continued.

Rather than business travel, the publisher chose to make leisure travel content for the site’s initial focus. “Our user base mixes personal and business life pretty regularly,” explained Spanfeller; however, he added, “We think the leisure stuff is less scripted so there’s more need for inspiration.”

That’s where features on summering at the Maharaja of Burdwan’s pad and renting a Lamborghini Gallardo in Monaco come in. Reviews from Mobil Travel Guide and Frommer’s Travel Guides, travel tools and advice from globetrotting CEOs and concierges from ritzy hotels can also be found. Unlike most other travel sites, Spanfeller noted, “There are very, very few if any that really focus on just the high end…. Our goal is, roughly speaking, taking the top third of the marketplace.”

At this point, only American Airlines, SkyAuction.com and luxury real estate service Coldwell Banker Previews International, are advertising on the site. SkyAuction.com is using its ad space to feature a luxury travel package search tool.

Rob Solomon, President and CEO of SideStep, which is powering ForbesTraveler.com’s official hotel, airfare and car rental search, doesn’t mind the competition from SkyAuction’s search ad. In the first of what he hopes will be many more syndication deals, SideStep is including only four and five star hotels in search results driven through the Forbes site. Those results pages feature ForbesTravel.com branding and links back to the site.

According to Solomon, Forbes will sell ads on the SideStep search results pages originating from ForbesTravel.com. Though he would not reveal details, he said the syndication deal is based on a revenue sharing model in which SideStep will provide a portion of revenues from bookings derived through the Forbes site.

The goal of the relationship with Forbes, he added, is “about enabling a greater number of transactions through the SideStep system.” Through its syndication offering and a separate tool allowing small publishers to include a SideStep search on their sites, Solomon aims to have “hundreds of touch-points out there” for distribution. Sidestep partnered with Amazon last year to power a co-branded site in Amazon’s travel store.

At a time when social networking and CGM tools are all the rage, Forbes has chosen to tread lightly when it comes to user-generated reviews and the like. “We’re not convinced that our user base will be as predisposed to consumer generated media — either creating it or reading it…. I’m not sure a senior business decision maker is really going to stop and sit and write 500 words on their trip to Bali,” suggested Forbes.com’s Spanfeller. Even so, the new travel site is using a regular column to feature travel tales sent in from readers as a social tools trial.

Forbes.com recently launched a video section and Spanfeller expects “a lot of video” to be included in the travel site in the future.

The publisher will use its other properties to drive traffic to the new site, which has strategically been released just before The ForbesTraveler 400 list, which will spotlight the world’s top hotels and destinations.

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