Two Cities Virtually Added to Travel Roster

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Virtually There custom-published guides will add Las Vegas and Los Angeles to a fast-growing roster of specialized, city-specific travel guides. The destination guides are distributed to consumers before they travel through an agreement between The Sabre Group, Fort Worth, TX, and Travel & Leisure Custom Publishing, a division of American Express Publishing Corp., New York.

The guides will launch in January, with several more cities planned over the next 14 months. "Our goal in 2000 is to add a city every issue," said Bernadette Mahlmann, general manager at Travel & Leisure Custom Publishing. "We want to establish ourselves and be looked at as the ultimate source for destination information." Cities eyed for next year's expansion include Atlanta, Boston, London, Miami and Washington, DC.

The bimonthly guides were launched earlier this year with May/June issues for New York and San Francisco. A Chicago edition was recently added.

Sabre, a computerized travel reservations network, which conceived the idea and oversees printing and distribution via Arandell, Minneapolis, boasts a computer reservations system that links 17,000 travel agencies and makes 400 million travel bookings annually. The guides are mailed to consumers with confirmed arrangements whenever travel is booked at least two weeks in advance.

Sabre sends names to Arandell daily; the printer aggregates those names (to bring postal rates down and decrease mailing time) and mails out guides roughly three times a week.

Travel & Leisure partners with Sabre to provide publishing and ad sales expertise. "We're not a publisher," said Andrea Spica, director of marketing at Sabre Virtually There, a unit of Sabre Inc. "Our core competency is travel and transport."

The guides benefit Sabre by reinforcing its relationship with travel agencies. "The travel agent channel is a very important channel to us," Spica said. The content provided comes from Travel & Leisure's nationwide web of local travel writers, which, according to Mahlmann, sets it apart from other city guides.

Long term, Sabre hopes to launch related marketing programs to sell content-relative data to its customers online and offline.

"We'll be looking at direct marketing and database implications," she said. Past behavior and present preferences are kept on file, so the idea is to use that data to serve up relevant travel information in the future.

"We'll never sell the list or give the information away on our travelers, but we will act as infomediary to connect buyers and sellers where appropriate," Spica said. "The advertisers and content providers can reach travelers in a highly targeted way, and these travelers are confirmed and booked."

Virtually There's advertisers, which include more local advertisers than national, have included American Express Card Related Services, City Pass, Club Med, Exploratorium and the Intrepid Sea Air Space Museum.

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