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PARIS -- French tire maker Michelin is launching a revitalized version of its pan-European travel planning portal site with a series of ads from Publicis e-Brand, Paris.

The site -- initially launched in 2000 as Michelin-travel.com, but renamed ViaMichelinin early May 2001 -- offers the French tire maker's famous road maps, city guides, regional guides and hotel/restaurant listings to car drivers in 43 European countries.

Michelin has announced plans to spend upward of $90 million over the coming three years developing and advertising the site, accessible in five of the most-spoken European languages: English, French, German, Italian and Spanish.

Advertising from Paris-based Publicis e-Brand will play a central role in creating trafficat the pay-per-view Internet site, company officials said. An initial wave of informational print ads is now rolling out across France, seeking to convince would-be vacationers to plandriving itineraries, reserve hotels and restaurants and buy maps online.

The company said it will not attract these visitors by its name alone, and admits it faces strong competition from well-established competitors including France Telecom-owned Mappy or popular start-up Maporama, both of which have signed partnerships for prominent placement on leading portal services and travel sites.

Michelin projects 2001 revenues from the site at about $6 million, estimating its target audience from Internet and Web-enabled mobile phones at 50 million pan-European users, including 9 million in France.

While Michelin projects a high-tech vibe around ViaMichelin, officials estimate that more than 80% of revenues in 2001 will come from the Minitel, France's domestic-only, low-tech, fixed-phone predecessor to the global Internet.

Minitel revenues are projected to diminish over the coming years, dwindling to 5% by 2005, when sales of Michelin products and site advertising will comprise nearly all revenues, the company said. -- Lawrence. J. Speer

Copyright May 2001, Crain Communications Inc.

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