RealTime IT News

Expedia Adds Visa, Passport Services

The always-competitive online travel business was one of the first e-commerce areas to demonstrate that success could be had using the power of the Internet.

And now it's more competitive than ever, as witness a proliferation of ads such as those from discount travel site Hotwire and the pop-unders being used by airline consortium site Orbitz, and announcements like the one today from Expedia.com introducing new visa and passport services.

Bellevue, Wash.-based Expedia crowed that it is the "first online travel site to provide assistance with passport and visa services," but you can bet your frequent flier miles that it won't be the last.

"Monkey see, monkey do" is becoming a mantra in online travel, especially since the sites are competing for fewer travel dollars following the events of Sept. 11. Fort Worth, Texas-based Travelocity.com and Expedia both launched ski areas on their sites within days of each other last October. And Priceline.com has a fairly new category called "resorts" in its hotel section.

Expedia said it signed a strategic alliance with Express Visa Service Inc., (EVS), a full-service travel documentation procurement company. Financial arrangements were not disclosed.

Expedia said visitors planning to head overseas now can research travel entry requirements for any country.

Worldwide visa and passport registration forms can be downloaded and sent directly to EVS. Travelers can link to "Passport Information" throughout Expedia.com in the "Traveler Tools" box sidebar and within all confirmation e-mails and itineraries related to international travel. In addition, EVS is available to answer visa and passport-related questions 24 hours a day, seven days a week via a toll-free number.

EVS says it hand-delivers customers' visa and passport documents to the appropriate embassy or consulate, saving time and ensuring a smooth experience. Travelers can easily check the status of their documents online throughout the process. Additional services include a Health and Travel section with information on required vaccinations and recent international health news, as well as an Express Registration Abroad service enabling travelers to alert their local embassy about their visit.

"Travelers may not always be aware of the specific documentation needed to enter a country. It is our goal to ensure Expedia travelers have this knowledge and are prepared for their trip," said Mike Day, senior vice president of operations for Expedia.