Travelocity Covers Travelers' Tolls at Dallas Airport

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Travelocity.com is the third-largest Internet-only retailer after Amazon.com and eBay.com, but not many people know that, which is why the travel Web site is testing an awareness-building measure this Memorial Day weekend.


Today, Travelocity will be paying the $2 entry tolls for nearly 5,000 vehicles expected at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. In complement will be banners, actors holding signs at the tollbooths and postcards about Travelocity handed to car drivers whose tolls are being sponsored.


"It's just a little way of going about our marketing and leveraging the PR that's already going to be there," said Michael Stacy, senior vice president of consumer marketing at Travelocity, Fort Worth, TX.


"We know the newscasters are going to be there, covering what a great travel day this is, how busy the airports are, how much traffic congestion there is, so to speak," he said. "So we're going to add this additional element to it."


Travelocity doesn't intend to satisfy the local media's appetite with just visual spectacle and grand gesture. It will feed reporters with travel information and appealing statistics that they can use for broadcasts from the airport.


The media can also add spice to their broadcasts -- and give Travelocity an extra plug -- by focusing on the message running across the banners near the tollbooths: "Get your hands out of the ashtray. We have you covered on this one. Next time you'll be able to save even more money with Travelocity.com."


"Internally, we call it our Memorial Day thank-you promotion because, essentially, if the local press does get hold of this, that's what we're going to talk about," Stacy said. "We have some interesting travel statistics that we can share with the press and, No. 2, we anticipate the reporter asking why we're doing this."


In a way, the maiden effort at Dallas-Fort Worth airport is Travelocity's acknowledgement of its hometown and gratitude for business from locals who use the Web site.


"This is a campaign that we don't expect to spend more than $30,000," Stacy said.


If successful, this marketing effort may roll out the Fourth of July weekend in other cities' airports, such as New York, Atlanta, Seattle, Chicago, Miami, Philadelphia and Los Angles -- all highly wired markets that Travelocity is targeting.


The past few months have been extremely busy for Travelocity. In March, it merged with PreviewTravel.com, followed by a marketing alliance with Priceline.com and an agreement with AOL to provide travel services on the portal.


New features were added to the Travelocity site in April, making it more consumer-friendly. This includes features that allow consumers to see which destinations certain airfares can buy and a best fare finder and hotel mapping.


As the site improves, so does the bottom line of Travelocity, a company controlled by ticketing service Sabre. Sales for the first quarter were $504 million, compared to the $1.1 billion recorded for last year and $285 million for all of 1998.


But not many people are aware of Travelocity's girth and growth, the company admits.


"It's Amazon, eBay, Travelocity -- you have to repeat that," Stacy said. "Nobody knows that."
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