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Skymall.com takes off on the Web

Arriving late to the departure gate, the Web unit of in-flight catalog retailer Skymall says it is launching a site aimed at the business traveler.

Arriving late to the departure gate, Skymall.com, a subsidiary of the in-flight catalog retailer, said today it was launching a site aimed at the business traveler.

Skymall's site, Skymalltravel.com is likely to face fierce competition as the company struggles to play catch-up against a host of competitors that have planted themselves firmly in the business travel sector.

Following the burgeoning trend of aiming portals at specific demographics and industries, commonly known as "vertical portals," Biztravel.com, American Express, and others already have travel services for small businesses and corporations in their crosshairs.

Earlier this week, American Express said it was expanding its Web presence by developing a specialized portal for business-to-business e-commerce needs. The planned site, American Express @ Work, will offer purchasing administrators and corporate travel managers access to account information, transactions, and customer service. Corporate employees also will have access to the service.

Skymall.com insists it is not competing with these other sites because it will not process transactions such as ticket sales, hotel bookings, and car rentals. The company's business model is based on generating revenues from advertising, said company vice president Sandy Goldman.

Skymall.com hopes to draw traffic by serving as an aggregation site for travel-related services. Its strategic partnerships include Trip.com, Webflyer.com, Ontheroad.com, and Mapquest.com.

Still, many of the business travel sites such as Biztravel offer similar services, including affiliate partnerships.

Skymalltravel.com was created to help busy business travelers find the information and services they need to plan trips quickly and easily, including linked directories for airlines, hotels, rental car, and online booking services. The site also offers content and tools to assist them during and after travel.

Although most vertical portals have yet to inspire enthusiasm on Wall Street, the biggest success has been VerticalNet, which runs over 35 Web sites aimed at specific industries. Still, most analysts say business-to-business e-commerce is going to far outpace business-to-consumer revenues.

According to a Forrester Research study, business-to-business sales will account for more than 85 percent of all e-commerce sales in 1999. The sector also is projected to grow much faster, reaching 90 percent of e-commerce by 2001. It generated a total of $131 billion last year and is predicted to reach $1.3 trillion by 2003, according to Forrester.

The percentage of employees with online access also has increased dramatically, with business users now spending an average of 10 hours per week online, according to Media Metrix.

Skymall.com hopes to overcome its late entry into the business travel vertical-portal game by promoting Skymalltravel.com in its in-flight shopping catalogs, which reach over 35 million passengers per month, representing over 70 percent of all flyers, the company said.

The Web site hopes to reach corporate travelers and small business travelers, the company said.

Shares of Skymall inched higher than 2.53 percent to 10.13 in morning trading. The stock has traded as high as 48 and as low as 1.88 during the past 52 weeks.