International Domain Names are Coming in 2010, What Does That Mean for Travel and Tourism?
By Jens Thraenhart, Chief Strategist – Dragon Trail
Thursday, 3rd December 2009
Considering that the travel, tourism, and hospitality industry is the most global of all industries, these developments have to have a tremendous impact on travel and tourism, as well as other related industries of course, such as sports.

First some background: Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs) are domain names represented by local language characters. Such domain names could contain letters or characters from non-ASCII scripts (for example, Arabic or Chinese). Many efforts are ongoing in the Internet community to make domain names available in character sets other than ASCII.

Earlier today, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which governs domains, registrations, Internet Protocol addresses, and many other aspects of the net, voted to approvea fast-track process for implementing non-Latin domain names by early to mid 2010 (PLEASE SEE THE PRESS RELEASE BELOW). This means that by next year, you could be seeing domains in Arabic, Japanese, Chinese, and dozens of other non-Latin languages. The new domains, which ICANN terms "Internationalized Domain Names" or IDNs, has been something the organization has discussed for several years, but now IDNs have been placed on a fast track process, beginning November 16th. It will involve around 100 new, international characters on top of the traditional 26-character English alphabet.

ICANN even takes the time to explain the impact of IDNs with a 7:10 video. In it, people from nations across (along with ICANN President Rod Beckstrom) the world discuss how IDNs will help them use localized keyboards and local email addresses. It's a bit silly, but it really nails the key point: it's time to expand domains to the native languages of over half the world.

Global Strategy firm , publisher of TourismInternetMarketing.com, focusing on global-local relevancy marketing believes that these developments in the domain name space have important implications for brands to be relevant to targeted consumers in specific local markets.

Online marketing and social media optimization requires different execution in different markets. Chameleon Strategies has partnered with a travel technology company in China to set up a Chinese division, Dragon Trail, that helps brands, predominantly in the travel, tourism, and hospitality industry to market to Chinese consumers by leveraging convergence platforms, digital marketing, technology, and social and new media. Its educational efforts include online resource portal China Travel Trends (@cnTravelTrends).

China is perfect example. Many people don't know that China has the highest number of Internet users, with 243 million broadband consumers. More interestingly, 92% (224 million) aged 13 and above, contributed to social media. This compared to 105 million Americans, or 76% of that country's broadband population.

Forty-three percent of Chinese broadband users (105 million people) communicate via forums/discussion boards, and 41 million Chinese are "heavy" social media contributors, meaning they participate in six or more activities and connect with at least 84 people on a "one to many" basis in a typical week. While we see differences in European countries, or Latin American countries compared to North America, China is an entire different game – and the recent censorship of websites made it very clear.

Even if sites may get unblocked again, they can get blocked again at any point in time. YouTube for example has been blocked and unblocked multiple times, and has not been accessible to Chinese consumers since March 2009. The growing Chinese consumer market, especially the elite and affluent population is getting independent and using the internet as an outlet to connect.

While some of them use proxy servers to access blocked sites, the speed and performance can be worse, which makes the online experience not as enjoyable. Take YouTube, Twitter and Facebook for example, a lot of people use the Chinese video sharing site Youkou, and a lot of people are already switching to the Chinese micro-blogging application Fanfei. Former Xiaonei, dubbed as the Chinese version (some people say "copy") of Facebook is gaining in popularity and has re-branded iself to Renren.com, in order to target a broader audience and not be just positioned as a student site.

A travel social media application on eLong.com is working with Renren already. Regardless if YouTube or Twitter will become freely accessible in China again or not, some Chinese people will continue to use them, however, as a marketer, it is important to not solely rely on these sites, but become familiar with these rapidly growing Chinese social media sites. Of course, the differences don't just stop there, but creating and executing a Chinese digital marketing and social media strategy also requires the use of technology applications in Chinese, such as booking engines, trip planners, content syndication and aggregation, to web design and usability.

Now, if we go back to the issue at hand of international domain names, it becomes even more clear that companies have to further adapt to changing environments and local culture to be relevant. As many brands start to develop a relevant online presence in foreign markets, such as China, the international domain development will help brands to be even more relevant, for all the obvious reasons. Whenever I take a taxi in Beijing, I either have to talk to him in my flawless (not!) Chinese, or show him the address in Simplified Mandarin characters, as he does not read roman characters.

So of course, the same taxi driver would also not enter roman characters into the web browser address bar (would have to need a translation tool). Recognizing how many affluent Chinese people do not speak English, it becomes very clear how powerful this new development really is, for brands that want to target Arabic-speaking countries, Russia, Greece, Japan, Korea, India, Thailand, and many others, but especially for China!

We know that for many marketing managers at travel brands, this is quite abstract, especially when we see that some of the brands still only translate their English pages into Chinese, however these websites unfortunately fail to be relevant as the content should be re-written optimized for search engines.

In any event, while ICANN's step can be very powerful to make the Internet accessible to even more people around the globe, from a travel and tourism perspective, it is still very early. The UNWTO (World Tourism Organization) has to take a leadership position to work with tourism ministers around the world to embrace and leverage this change.

From a marketing perspective, travel suppliers and destinations should watch this space and make sure they integrate international domain names into their international strategy.

ICANN Bringing the Languages of the World to the Global Internet (Press Release)

Fast Track Process for Internationalized Domain Names Launches Nov 16

Seoul: The first Internet addresses containing non-Latin characters from start to finish will soon be online thanks to today's approval of the new Internationalized Domain Name Fast Track Process by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers board.

"The coming introduction of non-Latin characters represents the biggest technical change to the Internet since it was created four decades ago," said ICANN chairman Peter Dengate Thrush. "Right now Internet address endings are limited to Latin characters – A to Z. But the Fast Track Process is the first step in bringing the 100,000 characters of the languages of the world online for domain names."

ICANN's Fast Track Process launches on 16 November 2009. It will allow nations and territories to apply for Internet extensions reflecting their name – and made up of characters from their national language. If the applications meet criteria that includes government and community support and a stability evaluation, the applicants will be approved to start accepting registrations.

" This is only the first step, but it is an incredibly big one and an historic move toward the internationalization of the Internet ," said Rod Beckstrom, ICANN's President and CEO. "The first countries that participate will not only be providing valuable information of the operation of IDNs in the domain name system, they are also going to help to bring the first of billions more people online – people who never use Roman characters in their daily lives."

IDNs have been a topic of discussion since before ICANN's inception. It's taken years of intense technical testing, policy development, and global co-operation to prepare the Fast Track process for its coming launch.

"Our work on IDNs has gone through numerous drafts, dozens of tests, and an incredible amount of development by volunteers since we started this project. Today is the first step in moving from planning and implementation to the real launch," said Tina Dam, ICANN's Senior Director for IDNs. "The launch of the Fast Track Process will be an amazing change to make the Internet an even more valuable tool, and for even more people around the globe."

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