A new online domain for the travel industry is open for business.
Airlines, theme parks, restaurants, tourism offices and others in travel and tourism are eligible for Web sites and e-mail addresses ending in ".travel."
The new domain could give consumers confidence that they are dealing with a legitimate travel business or group, though the mantra of "buyer beware" applies: Operators of the domain won't be performing any credit or criminal background checks or offering any guarantees.
New York-based Tralliance Corp., a unit of Internet communications company Theglobe.com, won approval to run ".travel" earlier this year from the Internet's key oversight agency, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN.
Since July 1, industry groups such as the Adventure Travel Trade Association and the International Hotel and Restaurant Association have been verifying that companies and organizations belong to one of 18 eligible industry sectors.
Those approved were allowed to register and use ".travel" names starting Monday.
Although Tralliance billed the domain as an online space for the global travel and tourism community, travel journalist and author Edward Hasbrouck criticized the rules, saying they exclude travelers at the expense of promoting travel businesses.
"The domain appears to exclude the participation of the largest class of people who use the Internet to travel — people who use the Internet to post their travel stories and photos and all sorts of things," Hasbrouck said.
Cherian Mathai, Tralliance's chief operating officer, said individuals might qualify as travel media if they offer a service, such as advice on how to get there. Simply creating a site with family photos from Peru's Machu Picchu won't qualify, he said.
Approval is made on a case-by-case basis, he said.
So far, many of the eligible travel sectors are in transportation, including airlines, bus operators, cruise lines and passenger rail lines, a group that covers suburban commuter lines but not city subway systems. Also eligible are hotels, casinos, camp facilities, travel agents and providers of travel technologies.
To prevent overlap with ".aero," an existing domain for the aviation industry, airports and aerospace companies don't qualify — but airlines do.
Mathai said the list will be continually reviewed by a nonprofit group of travel associations, the Travel Partnership Corp., and may grow to include retailers of luggage, for instance.
ICANN has been creating new Internet suffixes partly because existing ones like ".com" are crowded, making easy-to-remember addresses difficult to obtain. Nonetheless, Web sites that already have a ".com" name are likely to keep it and automatically redirect visitors to the new ".travel" site instead.
"Nobody wants to give up a dot-com name at this stage," Mathai said.