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Best of the Net: In the Lap of Luxury

Travel sites showcase five-star vacations -- for a price.
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Best of the Net

Finding a cheap vacation package on the Web is easy. But where can you go to find sublime destinations and premier lodging when you really want to go first-class?

We discovered four travel sites that kindled our sense of wanderlust. Would bona fide globe-trotters be as impressed? To find out, we assembled a world-class panel of entrepreneurs to review our picks.

Before becoming CEO of Atesto Technologies, in Fremont, Calif., William Yeack typically flew a million miles a year for consulting projects -- enough for United Airlines to name a plane in his honor. "There are not all that many places that I have not visited," he says.

Jewelry designer Lois Hill, president of Lois Hill Accessories, seeks creative inspiration by taking trips every year to two countries that she's never been to. That's in addition to the commute from her home and studio in Indonesia to her company's headquarters in New York City -- plus side trips to Europe, where she has ongoing design projects. Her idea of a vacation: exploring the jungles of Irian Jaya, in Indonesia, or climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, in Tanzania.

Budapest-born psychologist Agnes Huff, president and CEO of Agnes Huff Communications Group, in Los Angeles, also jets for both business and pleasure. Her recent destinations have included France, Australia, Mexico, Belize, Honduras, and Bora-Bora.

Surprisingly, our well-traveled judges often voted almost with one mind. Luxury Link was everyone's favorite site. It has trip auctions, a sweepstakes, and best buys, but what grabbed our panelists was the depth of travel information the site offered. Yeack bookmarked it; Hill used it to explore the possibility of a bicycle trip in Vietnam.

Small Luxury Hotels of the World was another crowd pleaser. It edged out VacationSpot.com for runner-up but proved as frustrating as it was enticing. Our judges found appealing places to stay among its 280 hotels, but following the links turned up a number of Sold Out notices.

VacationSpot.com, an offshoot of Expedia.com that offers accommodations for every price range, impressed the panel as a good site for less-experienced travelers to investigate. Though Huff liked the search features, she cautioned that results could be feast or famine: her search turned up 800 beach chalets around the world but only one beach resort in Bora-Bora.

Finally, even busy travelers need to rest. Check out Spa Finder if you want to pamper yourself anywhere in the world. Hill had used Spa Finder in the past, and Yeack ranked it highly, though he complained that several of his favorite health resorts weren't listed.

Some other peeves from Yeack, whose tech company tests Web sites for its clients: Some of the sites had glitches and links to pages that were not found. Booking online was the exception rather than the rule. And marketing copy often outweighed information about why a place was interesting to visit. "The nouveau riche like conspicuous consumption and spend time on researching it to no end," says the ultimate jet-setter. "However, the really rich have no time in the day and need sites that are customizable and high value."


Jane Salodof MacNeil is a freelance writer in Groveland, Mass.


The Savvy Entrepreneur's Guide to Luxury Travel on the Web

Site:
Luxury Link
www.luxurylink.com

What it's good for:
All types of luxury travel, from safaris to cooking classes, available in auctions, best buys, and exclusive packages.

Don't waste your time if:
You want rock-bottom prices.

What our ceos had to say:
Hill called it "a great mini-encyclopedia for locating different types of holiday options."

What you should know:
You can't easily print out pages from the site.


Site:
Small Luxury Hotels of the World
www.slh.com

What it's good for:
Locating small, exclusive hotels in châteaus, sheep ranches, game reserves, and other extraordinary places.

Don't waste your time if:
You want to stay at a Hilton.

What our ceos had to say:
"Great site for locating small boutique hotels," said Hill. Two judges complained the type was too small.

What you should know:
Armchair travelers have the advantage, as demand can overwhelm the available lodgings.


Site:
VacationSpot.com
www.vacationspot.com

What it's good for:
Lots of choices -- it features more than 25,000 properties, including hotels, homes, and villas in 4,000 locations.

Don't waste your time if:
You're looking for great deals or exclusive listings.

What our ceos had to say:
"This site is a real vacation planner," said Huff. "It makes you think about what you really want to do."

What you should know:
A feature called "My Spot" lets you coordinate trips with other travelers.


Site:
Spa Finder
www.spafinder.com

What it's good for:
Research on spas throughout the world.

Don't waste your time if:
You like to be on the go-go-go when you travel.

What our ceos had to say:
Huff raved that the spa glossary is great for novices. Hill wanted more information on treatments, "like, what is a dosha wrap?"

What you should know:
You can buy corporate gift certificates to reward your top customers and employees.


The Whole New Business Catalog

IncQuery: Where Are the Customers?
Redesign: I Read It in the Funny Papers
Hands On: Roadside Assistance
Cost Cutting: The Money Pit
Hands On: Limited Power
Best of the Net: In the Lap of Luxury
Capital: Shell Game


Please E-mail your comments to editors@inc.com.

Last updated: May 1, 2002




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