Social networking, road warrior style

It's a dilemma that commonly plagues business travelers: what to do with the sometimes hundreds of business cards collected during a trade show.

The cards are often accumulated during valuable meetings with people who could help generate new business or make introductions to key people. Some of these contacts could provide even more networking possibilities at future events.

But without an easy way to manage the new contact information or to glean insight into the future travel plans of people in a growing network, the collected business cards are more likely to collect dust than generate new business.

That was the vexing scenario that Marcel van Gemerden was aiming to eliminate by creating SkyLounge, a social network that focuses on helping colleagues, business contacts and others better leverage business travel. The site can keep users up-to-date on which of their contacts might be at the same trade show or in the same city at the same time they are.

The site, which launched in February, was upgraded this week to allow any user to open a virtual lounge dedicated to a company, an industry or an event. When a person signs up for the service they add their travel trip information and designate if the information is public or only can be viewed by the contacts in their own network.

"You can open any kind of lounge you like, whether you're in the flower business or working on Wall Street," noted van Gemerden, founder and CEO of the company. "You can start building up your network trying to find people in same industry or those you already know. If you're in the same place as your contact then you automatically get at trip alert. If you're going to a trade show and another person you have worked with in the past is also there you will know ahead that he or she will be there too."

The site also includes restaurant reviews where users can vote on the best restaurants in certain locales, and forums where they can discuss any topics they choose, van Gemerden added.

"That is the purpose - to give business travelers a set of tools so that before they leave on a trip they can get lots of information," he added. "During the trip they can use the Web site to see who is there at the same time. Afterwards they can add all the people they met on the trip to their network."

The site also includes a separate section dedicated to events. After a user indicates the industry they work in, they will be provided with a feed of trade shows related to that industry. After adding the events they are attending to their profiles, all others attending that event will know that the user is attending and vice versa, he noted.

So far, there are 50 lounges on the site - including those for American Airlines crews, golfers, GE employees and Shell "Globe Trotters."? The company expects to launch 250 additional lounges over the next two months.

Because the lounges can be organized by member trips' by name, date or destination, employees also could use the site to share flights, taxis or other information about business travel, he added.

So far, about 5,000 people - 70% of whom are upper management level employees - are using the site.

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