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Finding Lodging Online

Online searching leads to lodging bargains--even in New York City.

The scenario

A traveler headed to New York City, to holiday there for the first time, needs to make hotel reservations. The World Wide Web provided the solution.

In this article, I'll tell you a bit about my search in one specific city, and about some broader principles of looking for lodging online, whatever your destination (I also used the Web to search for accommodations in Boston and on the coast of Maine).

The details

Since this was my first trip to New York City, I began by looking at city guides, which can be found in many places. They provided an overview of the city, and a sense of its accommodation possibilities. One that I returned to a number of times was the New York Convention and Visitors Bureau at www.nycvisit.com

I also liked the Fodor's interactive site, at www.fodors.com. Fodor's publishes many printed guides and travel books, but it's managed to put that content to good interactive use. When you arrive at Fodor's home page you can create a miniguide for any one of 87 selected cities, by making just a few simple choices.

Fodor's, though, doesn't handle reservations (making its recommendations more valuable), so the next step is to check out hotel and room features, along with specific rates, and to make reservations.

For these services, I tried at least three distinct types of sites:

First, the online travel agencies, which I found disappointing. In the case of Expedia (www.expedia.com) for example, I went through a registration process that took a number of minutes, and when I finally got to hotels, the information was sparse, and online reservations weren't always available. That, and experiences like it at other sites, mean I no longer register to use any siteÑI simply go on to the next one. If that site doesn't suit my needs at least I haven't wasted my time registering for something I won't use.

Second, I looked at the online services of lodging chains that have their own Web sites and electronic reservation systems. The quality of their services vary as much as the quality of their beds (yep, some aren't very good at all!). One chain that does do a good job, and could be considered a model of interactive content for many others, is Embassy Suites at www.embassy-suites.com. It not only provides information about rooms, availability, and pricing, but also gives you tours of rooms.

Third, there are the specialized accommodation reservation services. Again, there's quite a range and quality of services, but generally this is the route I've come to like best. Perhaps it's because they're specialists, and must do this one thing well if they're to survive. Among those I liked were the Accommodation Search Engine at http://ase.net. However, make sure you check a number of different services, since different services represent different hotels. And, one other caveat: You likely won't find these services very helpful once you search beyond the major cities and resort areas.

Generally speaking

Overall, I found myself quite satisfied with the results. Finding lodging online is practical and worth doing now. However, it can consume lots of time and you must be prepared for many trips down dead-end streets and unexpected surprises (something like my idea of a good holiday, I suppose).

But, you'll get excited about the search for lodging online when you sense the potential of new computing and communications technologies. Content remains critical, yes, but when you combine that content with the power to search and cross-reference immense databases, you've got something new and powerful. The overall experience is much more interesting than a collection of books.

Of course, one of the great virtues of a stack of books is their capacity to fire your imagination. That's possible with the Web, too. Move the technology and all that enabling stuff to the back of your mind, and bring your imagination forward. Let armchair travel extend your holiday. On that note, check out the preparations article in the Savvy Travel section of Arthur Frommer's Outspoken Encyclopedia of Travel at www.frommers.com.

Finally, this medium is still in its infancy. While it already possesses the power to do exciting things, much more will follow and deliver possibilities that we haven't yet considered.

Your comments and suggestions are welcomed. Please e-mail them to Robert (Bob) Abbott at mailto:abbottr@managersguide.com. Bob also is author of the book, A Manager's Guide to Newsletters, which explains how managers can develop and publish effective, non-subscription newsletters. Free sample chapters can be downloaded at www.managersguide.com.


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