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Wisdom of the Web

It may be a little late to the game, but business travel is now the subject of a variety of blogs.

It may be a little late to the game, but business travel is now the subject of a variety of blogs.

In the last two years, companies in the travel business including Starwood Hotels and Resorts, Marriott International, Delta Air Lines and Southwest Airlines have introduced blogs to promote their products and brand images, as have business travelers who want to narrate experiences and share complaints.

One of the newest sites useful to business travelers is BoardingArea.com, a portal created by Randy Petersen, the frequent-flier program expert and founder of the online forum FlyerTalk. BoardingArea is essentially a directory to blogs that address issues of interest to business travelers.

According to Forrester Research, in the second quarter of 2007, 21 percent of business travelers who use the Internet read blogs, not just ones about business travel, but also those involving sports, business, finance and other topics. "This indicates that organizing a portal for business travel blogs, especially with good content, means the site has potential," said Henry H. Harteveldt, travel analyst for Forrester, a research firm.

Tracy Gamble, vice president for business development at Propylon, a software company, has found travel blogs to be a great resource. Gamble, who is based in Dallas and spends half her time traveling, reads three or four travel blogs regularly, including the Informed Traveler, CloudTravel and Gridskipper.

"I regularly consult these blogs before making client dinner reservations," she said. She also uses them, she said, to keep up on travel news like changes in government security procedures.

Last fall, she was too busy to visit her own doctor to get a flu shot. But after reading a post on Gridskipper, she learned that she could get a shot at a kiosk in O'Hare International Airport. So in November, when on a layover at O'Hare, Gamble went to the kiosk and was done in 10 minutes.

"If I'd seen the kiosk without having seen it on the blog, I wouldn't have stopped," she said.

Hotels, airlines and other companies in the travel business have also harnessed blogs to promote their brands and offer insights from their employees.

One of the most prominent bloggers is J.W. Marriott Jr., chairman and chief executive of Marriott International, who began a blog, Marriott on the Move, a year ago. It includes four or five posts a month and podcasts.

"I love it. I read an awful lot of responses we're getting," he said. "It gives us a chance to communicate with the world and a chance for people to communicate back."

Marriott's blog has already attracted more than 345,000 visitors; as a result of this success, Marriott plans to add the blog to some of its foreign Web sites and has started a second blog, by its corporate chef.

The hotel chain Starwood started its blog, TheLobby.com, in April 2006 to provide information for participants in its loyalty program. Chris Holdren, vice president for Starwood Preferred Guest and global Web services, said the tone had changed since the blog's introduction to allow the "perspectives of the bloggers to be brought to life." They include four travel writers and some 70 Starwood employees.

Southwest Airlines has operated its staff-written blog, Nuts About Southwest, since April 2006. (The name refers to the carrier's in-flight snack, peanuts.)

Blogs can also be a quick way to gauge customer reaction to policies. Early last year, Bill Owen, a schedule planner at Southwest, wrote in a post that the airline sold its inventory only three months in advance. But after an outcry online, it changed its policy and now sells tickets at least four months in advance.

The blog had 500,000 unique visitors in 2007, said Linda Rutherford, Southwest's vice president for public relations. The airline expects that to double this year.

Delta is one of the newer entrants to the blogosphere. Its platform, blog.delta.com, began last August, also with staff-written posts. In the next month, it will post proposed screen shots for its self-service kiosks on the blog to get feedback from travelers.

The portal BoardingArea.com not only lists these company blogs and those published by daily newspapers, but also features nine blogs started by individual business travelers, including one by Joe Sharkey, who also writes business travel columns for The New York Times.

Petersen says he will pay the nine bloggers to "consistently blog news and information." He is also helping them sell what he calls sponsorships and is sharing revenue with the bloggers.

Brett Snyder, director of new products for the comparison-shopping site PriceGrabber.com and author of Cranky Flier, one of the nine blogs, hopes the portal will do more than earn him and Petersen money.

"It will help with exposure," he said. "Business travelers will be able to come and read not just my blog, but others. I'm a big fan of sharing traffic, getting conversations going across blogs."