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Expedia's wired cafes to land in U.S. airports

The online travel site is propelling its open-air marketing efforts into U.S. airports, scheduling the first of its wired cafes to open this fall.

First a Web site. Then a radio show and travel magazine. Now an airport deli?

Online travel site Expedia.com is propelling its open-air marketing efforts into U.S. airports, scheduling the first of its wired cafes to open this fall at San Jose International Airport in California.

High-tech executives, notorious workaholics, will be able to bide their time in the airport by connecting their laptops to the Internet while having a meal, courtesy of a partnership with noted San Francisco eatery Max's. The Microsoft spinoff, based in Bellevue, Wash., partnered with concessions conglomerate HMSHost to operate the Internet cafes.

The move furthers Expedia's efforts to build a recognizable brand offline. Earlier this year, the company said it would unveil a new travel magazine in partnership with Ziff-Davis, which is scheduled to debut this fall. Last year, the site launched a travel radio show in five major markets and the Internet.

The evolution of marketing tactics marks the great lengths that new economy companies will take to build a brand name--a difficult task in the virtual world of the Net. It is also a formidable challenge for dot-coms struggling in an unfavorable market and amid ever-increasing competition. Many Internet companies have tried various strategies to gain attention from the public at large, including outlandish advertising campaigns, launching catalogs and opening brick-and-mortar stores.

Why open wired cafes in airports? It's the captive audience, of course.

Expedia said it is opening the first cafe in the San Jose, Calif., airport because of its high volume of Silicon Valley business travelers. But the company said it hopes this will be "the first of many" in airports across the United States.

Expedia "heard customers' complaints about searching an airport terminal for a place to plug in their computer and access the Internet," Richard Barton, Expedia's chief executive said in a statement.

Expedia was ranked the top travel Web site in June, with nearly 8.1 million unique visitors, according to Media Metrix. Its traffic increased 26 percent from May.

Future Expedia cafes will be run by HMSHost, a subsidiary of Autogrill, and will feature locally celebrated fare.