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Believing there is strength in numbers, a group of US city domain owners have banded together for what they hope will be an advertising bonanza.

Associated Cities has formed a collection of what it calls "pure city.com" Web sites, which is less interesting than say "pure cocaine" but more interesting than "pure fluff." The company has brought together the owners of Atlanta.com, Charleston.com, Chicago.com, Hiltonhead.com, LasVegas.com, MyrtleBeach.com, NewOrleans.com, Parkcity.com and SanDiego.com to form an advertising collective. The group lays claim to more than 25 million total city-dwellers and more than 30 million page views per month.

Given that we are two to three years away from dot-com glory stories - eBay, Yahoo! and Amazon excluded - you may wonder who cares about this virtual venture. Well, we know of at least one man who cares quite a bit.

Last week, we sat down with Josh Metnick, CEO of Chicago.com, and he explained a bit of the Associated Cities premise.

With some of the most attractive US tourist spots on its side, Associated Cities is looking to tempt hotels, car rental companies and other folks in the services industry that have nation-wide operations. By plunking down some ad money for an Associated Cities listing, the customers receive a fairly broad reach on fairly targeted Web sites. The advertiser needs only pay the Associated Cities collective to pop up on 9 different sites at once.

Part of the Associated Cities pitch is the tight connection between domain owner and his/her respective city. Metnick, for example, actually lives in Chicago. Imagine that. A similar relationship holds true for the other "pure city.com" players.

There are entrepreneurs to be sure, but a kinder, gentler breed of business types. Most the domain owners have been nursing their city.com lot for quite a while and claim to know a fair bit about the culture and nature of their locale.

So if advertisers want a site with a clue, they may well look at the Associated Cities group as an attractive place to start.

But the Associated Cities idea may be compelling for other reasons than the domains' down home feel. Some hotel operators, for example, have started an attack against online travel sites such as Expedia and Travelocity. It seems that a fierce online market is both a curse and a blessing.

Hotels have managed to use the Web as a tool for filling rooms at the last minute. A PwC study estimates that $715 million in extra hotel business was created last year via the Web. At the same time, however, the Web has created a pricing war.

"Increased price competition spurred by the Web cost hoteliers $2 billion in potential revenue, meaning the Web on the whole cost hoteliers about $1.3 billion in revenue," according to a recent Reuters report.

With that in mind, hotels are looking for ways to cut out the middle man and bring guests directly to their own sites - a bit of a brand loyalty game.

This trend could make "pure city.com" domains appear a tad more attractive to large chains. Just a thought. ®

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