|By Richard Lee, The Stamford Advocate, Conn.|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Oct. 12, 2004 - Calling themselves the new Internet travel "dream team," a group of online travel experts has launched a Norwalk-based Web site to take on the companies they helped develop into industry giants. Former executives from Travelocity, Orbitz, Expedia and Intuit have created Kayak.com, an online travel search site with its headquarters on Marshall Street.
The site offers travelers a look at what's available on 60 Internet travel pages, along with user-created ratings and reviews. Kayak.com's founders include Steve Hafner, co-founder and chief executive officer of Kayak.com and a co-founder of Orbitz Inc. in 1999. "Kayak.com will become the savvy travelers' most useful resource for making informed decisions during their travel planning," Hafner said. "We created the site to meet the needs of today's consumers who are frustrated by having to search multiple sites to find the best deal," Hafner said. "With just one click, visitors to Kayak.com will be able to see prices and services in real-time from over 60 leading travel sites." Hafner touted the fledgling company's MultiBook technology as an opportunity for consumers to choose where to buy their trip. But Kayak.com will have to differentiate itself from other online travel firms to take away business from major players like Orbitz, Expedia and Travelocity, said travel expert Laura Powell.
It will require a strong marketing effort to establish name recognition, she said.
"I don't know how unique any of this is anymore," she said, comparing travel shopping on the Web today to choosing a travel agent before the advent of online travel sites. "Everyone had access to the same stuff. It was the personality of the travel agent."
As a travel aggregator and a technology company, Kayak.com does not sell a product. It offers a search engine that scours over 60 online travel sites, providing prices and itineraries for more than 550 airlines and 85,000 hotels.
The company has launched the public beta, or preview version of Kayak.com. "Kayak.com is the first travel aggregator to use Rich Internet Architecture to ensure quick, real-time filtering and sorting of hundreds of results," said Paul English, co-founder and chief technical officer of Kayak.com and former vice president of technology at financial software maker Intuit. "RIA allows Kayak.com to filter duplicate fares, displaying a clean, easy-to-read results screen," English said. "Consumers can easily change search parameters, such as time of departure, airport preference, or airlines and see the reorganized results instantaneously." Free to consumers, Kayak.com allows travelers to post and view ratings and reviews and access information from other respected travel sources like Frommer's and Fodor's. In addition, the site remembers most recent searches and airport preferences.
Over time, Kayak.com will let consumers specify their preferences for airlines, stops, fares, hotel star rating, and hotel locations so options will automatically be filtered and displayed based on those preferences. "Think of Kayak.com as the 'Google meets Amazon' of travel search," Hafner said. "Kayak.com finds the most options, allows you to share tips and information with travelers like you and remembers what you like." The Kayak.com team also includes Chairman of the Board Terry Jones, the former president and chief executive officer of Travelocity.com, which he helped found in 1996; and Greg Slyngstad, director, former senior vice president of destinations and lodging at Expedia.com, which he helped found. Also Keith Melnick, formerly a manager at the Boston Consulting Group, where he served on the launch team of Orbitz; Matt Mancuso, former corporate controller at Hotwire, which he helped found in 2000; and Drew Patterson, former director of pricing, distribution and e-commerce for Starwood Hotels and Resorts, where he oversaw formation of Travelweb, a hotel industry consortium to distribute net rate inventory.
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