The World Wide Web is the most helpful travel tool to come along in generations.
Even though some people find it confusing, frustrating and difficult to navigate, use of the Internet by adventurers booking airline tickets, reserving hotels and rental cars, and researching foreign countries has increased exponentially over the past few years.
"People are doing more research before they travel," said Rick Maw, who operates Utah.com, the state's travel site. "In this economy, they are shopping around for the best price."
That can present some interesting dilemmas to companies such as airlines and hotels that find fares and room rates vary from site to site.
Joan Lowell, vice president for electronic distribution for Hyatt Hotels, says her company operates on the premise that its site must offer rates as low or lower than major Internet travel bookers such as Expedia and Travelocity. That means rates for travelers booking on Hyatt.com may be less than those who call its toll-free reservation number or individual hotels.
"The Internet is becoming increasingly more important," Lowell said. "People may not all book on the Web, but they definitely book."
That means hotel chains such as Hyatt are offering Web surfers increasingly sophisticated sites that include such things as maps and virtual room tours.
Two books -- "The Rough Guide to Travel Online" and "Travel Planning Online for Dummies" -- offer some excellent insights into using the Internet.
"The most obvious appeal of using the 'Net for travel arrangements is that if you know exactly what you want -- a flight or ferry from A to B, the cheapest possible rental car, a cut-price all-inclusive package -- there are great deals to be found," write Rough Guide authors Samantha Cook and Greg Ward in the best organized of the two books. "The 'Net can help you choose a destination in the first place, using sites that cover the whole world as well as those focusing on particular countries or cities."
A glance through the two publications offers sites for guidebooks, travel agents, airlines, trains, ferries, car rentals, cruising, accommodations, money exchange rates, visa requirements, weather, senior and children travel, and information on individual countries.
One site, www.towd.com, links travelers with official travel agencies throughout the United States and the world. Another, travel.state.gov, is an official U.S. State Department site that provides alerts on dangerous places to travel, a country-by-country list that requires travel visas for U.S. citizens and a health site detailing recommended shots for foreign countries.
There's so much information on the Web, and so many ways to book trips, it might seem there is no longer a need for travel agents.
Not so, said Bruce Smith, a Salt Lake area-based agent and monthly Salt Lake Tribune travel columnist.
Smith, who assesses a surcharge for booking fees, says most travelers do not have the time or knowledge of the Internet to find the best deals. That's where travel agents who know how to look for the best deals on the Internet can help consumers. Many travelers find paying a surcharge to an agent to do their work well worth the money someone familiar with many search engines can save.