A few weeks ago I saw that Travel Ad Network had purchased travel inspiration website Travelmuse. That Eye for Travel story announcing the acquisition was interesting as it quoted Travel Ad Network (TAN) saying their intention was to spend their recently raised $15 million on building the largest online travel audience in the world.

Dennis Schaal at Tnooz then took it a step further when he wrote:

Brian Silver, the TAN president and CEO, cites several reasons for acquiring TravelMuse’s assets, but chief among them is that the site provides an effective means to ascertain the attributes of travel consumers early on in the travel-buying funnel. TAN already is a buyer of such consumer data, and the TravelMuse acquisition enables TAN to harvest a whole bunch more and for free, Silver says. Accessing that data about traveler intent is much more important to TAN than the current size of the TravelMuse audience, Silver says. TAN can turn around and leverage that data about consumer attributes for its publishers and advertising partners, he adds.

And this is getting to the heart of why it is interesting. The other day I mentioned some of the cutting edge work both Google and Microsoft are doing in next generation targeted advertising technologies, and today I saw something in Advertising Age about new technology from personalization software vendor Rich Relevance for placing targeted ads near the checkout of e-commerce merchants. Make no mistake, in some shape or form these types of technologies will make their way into travel, and maybe Travel Ad Network see themselves as being able to capitalize on this trend by matching it all to great information on what customers are thinking of buying before they actually purchase. Whoever can predict the center of the Bow Tie from a position to the left of the knot will take a lot of power away from the airline direct channel. Not only for the air segment, but maybe even more significantly it will negatively impact the airline’s ability to generate ancillary revenue.

One airline trying to move to the left of the Bow Tie is Delta with their just launched Embark inspiration product for the Google Chrome browser. I played with it for about 20 minutes today and it has quite a nice design; I also liked the way destinations could be filtered by weather conditions using a slider – see below what I wrote way back in January when discussing airlines wanting to own travel inspiration.

Much better attributes would be things that could interact with a slider, and that also could be populated with data sources that were automatically updated rather than manually maintained. Average temperate at that time of the year, chance of rain, days of sunshine, water temperature – or maybe something really edgy like safety (aka muggings/murders per head of population) or even average age of other people that flew to this destination

But the most interesting part for me when using Embark was seeing the large banner ad at the bottom of the screen offer advertising slots on the site, sold by the Delta in-flight magazine sales team. OTA’s have managed to mix a transactional revenue model and a media model, are airline websites next?