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Electronic Explorer

A Primer on Internet Resources

September 14, 1997|LAURA BLY | Bly welcomes reader comments; her e-mail address is Laura.Bly@latimes.com. Electronic Explorer appears monthly

Ask Noah Vadnai to estimate the number of travel sites on the World Wide Web, and his reply is as voluminous as the Web itself: "A ton." Which helps explain why Vadnai's new primer on Internet travel resources, NetGuide's Travel Guide (http://www.netguide.com/travel), is such a useful starting point for anyone planning an online journey.

Yahoo's well-known directory (http://www.yahoo.com) is one of the fastest and easiest ways to locate thousands of travel-oriented sites. But Yahoo's primary allure is the way it sifts and categorizes those sites rather than its terse, perfunctory descriptions of what surfers will find when they get there.

By contrast, NetGuide's Travel Guide encompasses only about 100 sites--but Vadnai's timely directives provide a much-needed context. Launched in May, the travel guide is divided into categories for business travel, online booking, destinations, publications, discount travel, special interests/needs, independent travelers, technology, Net travel resources and theme travel. Travelers also can search for NetGuide site reviews--which will be revamped and updated by the end of September--by subject category or keyword.

Vadnai, a 25-year-old former photo editor who spent six months traveling in Asia before landing his NetGuide assignment, posts daily "how to" articles and lists of online events, and updates each section with new features and relevant Web sites three times a week.

The "destinations" area is frequently pegged to news or seasonal events; a recent article on Internet resources to Thailand spotlighted the increasingly favorable exchange rate for Americans. And while Vadnai remains convinced that cyberspace will squeeze out many travel agents, his useful story on how to find consolidator airline tickets on the Internet points out that most online discounters still use agents to research the lowest fare.

An even more personalized, eclectic approach to Internet travel sites is The Mining Co. (http://home.miningco.com/travel/), a new service that's positioning itself as a "life preserver to frustrated and isolated Web surfers who have been drowning in the clutter of the Internet." The Mining Co.'s 34 travel-related sites are staffed by freelance "guides" chosen for their interest and expertise in a given location or subject. Each week, the site's guide provides a column and anywhere from five to 20 links to relevant Web sites, discussion groups and chat areas.

Five months after its inception, The Mining Co. is clearly a work in progress. It covers just 22 destinations (more than half in North America), while special-interest vacations are limited to camping, cruises, golf, honeymoons, skiing and theme parks.

But the sites do reflect the passions of their respective guides: The South Pacific area, managed by a New Zealand-bred software engineer, includes a link to "a snappy page for snowboarders thinking about a trip to New Zealand." The cruising site, shepherded by a former travel agent with 18 cruises under his belt, features cruise-related news updated several times a week, along with such out-of-the-ordinary finds as a list of solar eclipse cruises and advice by a ship's photographer on how to land a job on the high seas.

Small bytes: The innovative, Web-based Electronic Travel Auction closed down last month, a victim of lackluster interest from both sellers and buyers. But the concept has resurfaced for a worthy cause: the nonprofit, worldwide relief organization Operation USA. From Sept. 13 to 27, consumers can place electronic bids on more than two dozen travel packages, from three nights at Venice's Hotel Metropole to a 10-day yacht cruise off Tierra del Fuego. For details, check out Operation USA's Web site (http://www.opusa.org). . . . Salon Wanderlust, a literary-based travel Web site (http://www.salonmagazine.com/wanderlust/), has added a virtual travel agency that lets readers research and purchase trips as well as travel-related gear and books excerpted on the site. . . . Pets Welcome's Web site (http://www.petswelcome.com) helps mouse-wielding pet owners find a temporary home for their critters by searching through a list of more than 8,000 dog, cat and bird-friendly hotels, motels and bed-and-breakfast inns. The site also includes travel tips and a list of emergency veterinarian services.

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