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To maintain growth, ‘Travel Weekly’ relaunches site

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After Northstar Travel Media’s Travel Weekly relaunched its Web site in mid-February, page views surged 21% last month, compared with March 2007, said VP-Publisher Bob Sullivan.

Meanwhile, on the online revenue side, he said, “We already had as much business on the books for 2008 by April 14 as we did in full-year 2007.”

The redesign was not a defensive strategy, Sullivan said. “For calendar year 2007, our online revenue was ahead of 2006 by 64%,” he said. “We are delighted with that growth, but we made the changes in our Web site in order to maintain it.”

The relaunched site features an updated design that’s wider (1024 pixels) and provides more horizontal space, thanks to the elimination of the left-side navigation column. The home page is more visually compelling, with photographs accompanying stories and an automatically scrolling feature box that links to subject-specific channels—Europe, Hawaii, Las Vegas, Mexico, hotels, cruises, auto rental and technology.

Users can also search Northstar’s Hotel and Travel Index, a worldwide directory of more than 100,000 hotels and resorts, directly from the home page, and view summaries of e-learning programs.

The revamped TravelWeekly.com provides many more advertising and sponsorship opportunities. Each of the business segment channels, for example, is supported by a single sponsor. “All of them are sold out already,” Sullivan said.

Another new sponsorship opportunity is the Site Search box at the top of the page. P>The site features a new multimedia library. Currently stocked with still photos taken by Travel Weekly editors during recent travels, it will eventually include video. “That will be a big part of the site,” Sullivan said. “Give us time.”

TravelWeekly.com also includes social media features, although they are implemented slightly differently than on most other sites. The Most Read and Most Emailed articles are designated with hot links rather than the familiar text box with tabs. Clicking the link takes users to a separate page that provides the first 25 words of each story as well as headlines. This landing page also provides another place for advertising.

At a time when b-to-b marketing dollars in general are migrating from print to online, Sullivan said Travel Weekly also increased its print advertising in 2007. “Our total revenue was up 20%,” he said. “We work very hard with clients to provide them with an integrated, multimedia approach.”

In spite of recession fears and airline industry challenges, the travel industry in general has been doing well this year, Sullivan said. “The business indicators are looking solid for the rest of the year, but rising gas prices may have an effect later in 2008,” he said.

In other Northstar Travel Media news, BtoB reported on its Web site last week that the company is up for sale, according to a person familiar with the situation.

Northstar’s portfolio also includes M&C (Meetings and Conventions), T&E, Travel Age West, Web sites hotelandtravelindex.com and omfg.com (Official Meeting Facilities Guide); Business Travel Planner 24, an online resource for business travel and hotel planning professionals; and Star Service Online, which offers commentary on 9,000 hotels worldwide.

“It’s a difficult time to bring a company like this to market because of the downturn in the economy and travel,” said an industry observer who asked not to be identified. He declined to estimate how much the company might sell for.

Private equity fund Boston Ventures bought Northstar from Reed Elsevier in 2001. “I’m not surprised that Boston Ventures is prepared to exit,” said one b-to-b media executive who also asked not to be identified. “But I think the timing is interesting giving the current market in financing.”

Media Business reporter Matthew Schwartz contributed to this report.

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