Yahoo Tests Travel Search Engine

The company introduces its first public version of a travel search engine based on its acquisition of FareChase.

Yahoo Inc. is launching its first public beta of a travel search engine based on its recent acquisition of online travel company FareChase Inc.

Yahoo plans to make the test site available late on Tuesday and is billing it as a prototype for eliciting user feedback and testing the best approach to searching travel provider Web sites for airfare, hotel rooms and rental cars.

The Sunnyvale, Calif., company quietly bought Israeli-based FareChase in early July. The Yahoo travel search prototype is similar to a travel search beta that FareChase has had on its own Web site.

Yahoo officials declined to discuss details of the beta or its future plans for integrating travel search into its other service, including its broader Web search engine.

But Henry Harteveldt, an analyst at Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Inc., said he expects Yahoo to integrate FareChases travel search technology broadly. Along with eventually allowing keyword searches on Yahoo Search to return travel results, he expects FareChase-based search to be added into Yahoo Travel and into Yahoos Overture Services division as a way to target keyword-based ads.

"The beauty and value of what Yahoo can get out of FareChase is not in beta search," said Harteveldt, who was unimpressed with the features in the prototype.

According to a set of frequently asked questions on the Web site, the combined Yahoo-FareChase test pulls real-time search results from more than 150 travel Web sites. The site provides a comparison of fares and prices but sends users to providers Web site, such as an airlines site or online travel agency, to book travel.

If effectively integrated, FareChase has the potential to give Yahoo a leap on its major search competitors, such as Google Inc. and Microsoft Corp.s MSN, by providing more useful results to users, Harteveldt said. Neither Google nor MSN have their own travel search engines.

Instead, Yahoo is competing more closely against smaller travel search providers such as SideStep Inc. and a handful of startups as well as online travel agencies such as Expedia Inc. and Travelocity.com LP.

Yahoo also partners with Travelocity.com for the booking and much of the content on the Yahoo Travel site, and analysts say that the decision to acquire FareChase and integrate it into Yahoo could strain that relationship.

Another significant challenge for Yahoo will be overcoming the animosity between FareChase and some travel providers who disapproved of FareChases aggregation of information from their Web sites, Harteveldt said. American Airlines in 2003 sued FareChase over its method of collecting fare information, winning an injunction in the case and later reaching a settlement.

Yahoo must gain the trust of travel providers, from airlines to agents, to make FareChase pay off, Harteveldt said.

"This was a really risky move for Yahoo because FareChase is just viewed as a pariah [and] it has a spotted past," Harteveldt said. "If they dont have access to suppliers own Web sites, the cost efficiency of a Yahoo/FareChase lead is somewhat questionable."

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