Northstar relaunches; debuts new paid site for agents

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It's been a busy January for Northstar Travel Media. So far this month, the company has introduced a new paid website for travel agents, called Travel42, and unveiled an updated version of Previously a single site, Travel Weekly was relaunched as a network of four brands on one platform and now also includes Hotel & Travel Index, Official Cruise Guide and World of Luxury. The latter two brands did not previously exist online. Digital Directions spoke with Tom Cintorino, Northstar's exec VP-digital media, about the technology and strategy behind the sites.

Digital Directions: How would a travel agent use Travel42 and what does it cost?

Cintorino: Travel42 integrates three products—the Star Reports, which are based on professional reviews of hotels and cruise ships; Weissmann Reports, a database of more than 5,000 destination guides worldwide written for travel professionals; and travel alerts from Intelliguide, which we license to corporations to alert them to transportation, security, weather and health risks around the world.

Travel42 will help save agents time when they are researching travel itineraries for their clients and help them make money by building customer loyalty. One of the major features is a report builder that allows agents to customize reports for their customers. The Travel42 service is priced at $42 per month. We will also offer volume discounts and licenses for large agencies.

DD: What is the underlying technology?

Cintorino: It's an entirely new Web application we built. We had to create an entirely new user interface and design, integrate the three databases and build a shopping cart tool so agents can put together the reports.

DD: What were the major changes to

Cintorino: One of our main objectives is for users to find content accurately and quickly, so we made changes in the informational architecture to consolidate topics [that were previously scattered and duplicated]. Now we have what we call “topic pages” that “surface” content according to categories like airlines, government affairs, tour operators and travel technology. Then we added block navigation, which is more like a table of contents than a typical drop-down menu. This gives users more direct access to content than before.

We revamped our jobs section and made our financial section interactive, with near real-time updates to the Travel Weekly Stock Index. We implemented the Brightcove platform for video, and we will be adding more video content in the future.

We continue to use our existing content management system (Ektron), but we also implemented RAMP, a content optimization solution, for search and content tagging—including speech-to-text translation of video. The search engine results page (SERP) is a lot more robust than it used to be. It allows users to filter results by author, time frame or content type, such as articles, videos or slide shows. We also surface related hotels on the SERP because the search engine is communicating with our hotel database. This is a nice integration of our network content.

DD: Why did you decide to form the Travel Weekly Network?

Cintorino: The Cruise Guide is a new brand that didn't exist online or in print prior to April [2009], and it's ideally complementary to the Hotel & Travel Index. The World of Luxury was only in print prior to this site redesign. In print, the model is mostly advertorial, pay-to-play, and the appeal is very visual. It's the same model on the site. The photos are huge, and we're also able to include videos and links. We're now selling advertising across the network.

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