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Yahoo on Wednesday unveiled an online travel service that helps consumers not only book flights and hotels, but plan, organise and share trips via the internet.

The move reflects the next phase in online travel as the sector expands beyond simply booking reservations, to a more comprehensive approach to travel through maps, reviews, photos and user-generated content such as weblogs.

Other companies have also focused on websites that tout enhanced travel “experiences” for users. Sabre Holdings, parent company of online travel agency Travel-ocity, earlier this year bought IgoUgo.com, a travel “community” that allows users to post photos and travelogues.

IAC/InterActiveCorp, Barry Diller’s internet conglomerate, last year bought TripAdvisor, a website that allows consumers to post and search hotel reviews.

Yahoo has spent the past 18 months honing its new Trip Planner service. It weaves together many of Yahoo’s existing services such as maps, bulletin boards and local listings and allows consumers to create and print personalised trip itineraries. It also integrates services from Flickr, the online photo sharing company that Yahoo bought earlier this year. “The launch of Trip Planner and our expanded community and content offerings are just the beginning of our plans to build the ultimate online travel resource,” said James Slavet, general manager of Yahoo! Marketplace – Travel and Autos. It aims to do “what a great executive assistant or travel agent would do, but allows you to do it yourself,” he added.

The service is free but Yahoo hopes to make money from advertising, as well as revenue generated when consumers book travel.

Yahoo has earmarked travel as one of its most important markets. Travel is the largest sales category in online commerce. Consumers will purchase $91bn in online travel sales by 2009, said market research group JupiterResearch last year.

Most US consumers go to one of the “big three” online travel agencies to book travel.

But Yahoo hopes to drive traffic to its travel pages through its base of 180m registered users and 400m who visit the site each month.

Yahoo has invested heavily in building its database of destination-specific travel information. It now claims nearly 500,000 user ratings and 250,000 reviews written by Yahoo users about hotels, restaurants and activities.

Trip Planner allows users to receive travel recommendations from friends and
fellow travellers.

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