SideStep, the travel search engine, has raised $15 million in a third round of funding to help it stay competitive and to venture into other areas.

The travel industry is packed. Other players offer search. But they also make money from selling travel tickets, something SideStep doesn’t do. These companies include Expedia, Travelocity. There’s Kayak, which offers a similar search engine. There are niche sites too, such as fare-prediction site Farecast and user-generated site, RealTravel.

Sidestep’s funding comes from Norwest Venture Partners, and continues an incestuous trend among venture firms and the travel companies they support. Besides the Santa Clara, Calif.-based SideStep, Norwest has backed Indian tavel company Yatra, and Sulekha, another Indian company that has travel features among other things.

Sidestep is probably happy to take the money, even if it knows the danger of having a VC with conflicts. It learned its lesson back in 2004, when it held several meetings with venture firm General Catalyst, during which Sidestep spilled its business strategy to the firm, only to see the firm back out and invest in competitor Kayak instead.

And then there’s Accel, which has invested in Kosmix, a search engine that has a travel component, and Kayak.

Other investors in Sidestep include Trident Capital, Leader Ventures and Saints Capital.

In a statement, Sidestep said it wants to use the money build out media and user-generated offerings. Sidestep offers a comparison-shopping Web site, with options from more than 600 airlines, 150,000 hotels and 30,000 car rental locations worldwide. It offers vacation packages and, — via its purchase of — extensive hotel reviews and travel blogs. It has more than five million users a month.

landfrog.bmpAlso, we shouldn’t forget that Jamis McNiven, owner of the famous VC breakfast hangout, Bucks Restaurant, is launching his own travel company, Landfrog, this quarter.

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