Susan Black's assessment of the opportunities for travel start-ups to obtain outside investment is blunt: "It's dismal." Black, a travel industry veteran who serves as senior adviser for the industry at Chimney Rock Capital Partners, said venture capital and private equity firms that already have invested in travel start-ups are currently vetting their portfolios and "deciding who shall live and who shall die."

The money hasn't completely dried up, but it most likely will go toward building on existing investments, Black said. For new businesses, "there's generally nothing."

Existing companies are competing with each other for capital that is doled out under far more stringent criteria, added Mims Wright, a principal of Chimney Rock. In this environment, newcomers should look to friends, family and angel investors.

No matter where an entrepreneur looks for capital, the first priority is "a management team with a track record of success," Wright said. "Investors of any kind are all looking for ways to reduce risk, and that starts with the quality of the team." Black noted that there is a lot of unemployed quality talent ripe for recruitment. Second, "You should be able to prove your concept fairly quickly," Wright said. If a newcomer can accomplish those two things, it may attract the attention of venture capitalists. "But you must perform early and well," Wright said. "The days are gone when VC firms would give you two to three years to get launched."

In addition, Black added, investors know that technology has gotten much cheaper over the years, and "where the money is going" will come under more careful scrutiny than in years past. There are, of course, always exceptions to the rule. Both Black and Wright cited Rich Barton, the founder of Expedia.com and Zillow, the online real estate service, as someone with a proven track record not only of great ideas but of sound management. That sort of "brand name" could attract venture capital or private equity even for a start-up.

But Black cautioned that it's not enough to have a name if you've only worked for a big company. Being an entrepreneur who can take a company from an idea to a going concern requires a different skill set than that of a senior manager in a large company. "You cannot get by with a business plan and a prayer," she said. Another caveat, Black said, is that the idea "has to be the flavor of the day." Serial entrepreneurs who have made their mark on the industry by building booking engines should realize that those inventions are "a dime a dozen now."

One area that is getting a lot of attention now is media, Black said. "All the online travel agencies are turning toward media," she said. "People look at their sites and go to supplier Web sites to book. OTAs are looking for ways to aggregate and leverage the audience."

Wright said new companies should think creatively about where to find backing. For example, a large, established company might be interested in taking a new company under its wing as a strategic investment if the start-up is contemplating a product or service that the company needs or would like to offer.

In addition, Wright said, "Look into the marketplace, see who is out there. You might be able to join forces with a company that is at your stage and would have been your competition, or a company whose idea might be complementary to yours."

Entrepreneurs need to be realistic about the valuation of their companies in this economic climate, Wright added. "In the past, you may have had to give up 30% of your company in return for investment. Now you may have to give up 50%. Start creating expectations that fit the times."