Online travel planner makes last-minute Canadian bookings

A U.S. online travel planning service has fit Toronto and Montreal into its schedule. Tuesday said its first two Canadian destinations would be offered in packages on its site through partnerships with airlines and Canadian hotel properties. Airlines on board so far include Delta Airlines, American Airlines and Continental.

“We’re working on getting a Canadian airline, as long as they are e-ticket enabled,” said CEO Michelle Peluso, admitting that the consolidation in the airline industry hasn’t helped matters. “It does seem to be a little bit harder.”

In the U.S., partners with Bass Hotels, Loews Hotels and Starwood Hotels. launched just over a year ago offering leftover air, hotel and car rental packages (called “inventory”) over its Web site. Though it has been possible since the site’s launch to travel to Montreal and Toronto, this marks the first time Canadians can take advantage of outbound packages to the two cities. No physical Canadian presence is expected to accompany the launch.

Peluso comes from the Boston Consulting Group, where the idea was first hatched. The “59” refers to the last-minute planning by many of the company’s audience. Peluso describes them as “ubran, professional people who don’t have time for mini-vacations. They like to get a good deal; they’re adventurers who like to explore the world.”

The value-add for is the ability to customize the packages according to a user’s preferences. It also serves as a distribution channel for the airlines and property companies, who typically shy away of promoting low-cost inventory.

“You start to erode the brand,” she said. “In our case, we package everything, rotate our packages, and we have Saturday night stay requirements.”

According to a report from Ipsos-Reid, 59 per cent of Canadians Internet users went to the Web to research travel plans and gather travel information last year. A further 18 per cent booked online, while 26 per cent of its respondents said they would do so in the future.

“It’s one of the most popular things the Internet is used for,” said Denise de Sousa, senior research manager with the consumer strategy group at Ipsos-Reid’s Canadian office. “It surprised me, but when you think about it, it might be because vacations are one of the real intangible items.”

The online travel space is already crowded with the likes of and BizTravel, but Peluso said the company partners, rather than competes with these companies. offers them the opportunity to post its packages on their sites and pay them a percentage of the packages sold, much like a PC reseller.

“We actually create a product,” she said. “We also control our own margins.”

Its most notable partner so far is Yahoo! Vacations, which will also help promote in Canada.

“A lot of travel sites have a good Canadian base,” she said. “A lot of e-mails from Yahoo! customers.”

These partnerships will be increasingly important for a company that plans little marketing activity beyond word of mouth.

“When people get a good deal, they like to brag about it,” she said. “Even in the States, we don’t do much marketing.”’s packages start at $300 per person double occupancy. Along with low prices, Peluso promised “real availablity” — that what is offered on the site will actually be for sale.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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