Expedia Launches in Asia-Pacific

US giant Expedia has opened its first branded site in the Asia-Pacific region with the launch of www.expedia.com.au in Australia.
The site only offers hotel and attractions at this stage but Managing Director Arthur Hoffman said car hire and flight sales would follow “sooner rather than later”.
Japan, the world’s second largest tourism market, is also on the Expedia radar.
“We are actively looking at Japan,” said Hoffman, although the company has yet to decide its entry strategy, which could take one of three forms: organic, joint venture or acquisition.
Expedia also has a presence in China through its 52% shareholding in elong, the second largest online travel retailer in that market.
“Australia is a little easier to enter into under our own brand and leverage our global platform,” Hoffman said.
The Australian online travel market is very competitive and relatively mature by regional standards.
However, the online travel marketplace tends to be dominated by the major domestic airlines – Jetstar, Qantas and Virgin Blue – and hotel sites like Wotif.com and Hotel Club.
At this stage, while online retail brands such as Webjet and Travel.com.au are popular, no single company dominates in terms of traffic or brand recognition.
A confident Hoffman believes that Expedia will rapidly make inroads and that consumers will warm to its cutting-edge technology.
“Every year Expedia invests more than US$100 million in technology,” he said.
Meanwhile, after a rocky start following its August stock market spin-off from InterActiveCorp, Expedia shares are now trading at US$26.10 – well up on the US$18.49 of late October.
Expedia operates branded sites in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom., German, France, Italy, Netherlands and now Australia.

Katz Buys One-Way Ticket To Oblivion With eboookers

THE mastermind behind Cendant’s aggressive expansion of its Travel Distribution Business, Sam Katz, has fallen on his sword after a review of the eBookers business – which he bought for US$350 million in February – revealed huge losses.
In a convoluted release, Cendant Chairman Henry Silverman said TDS business would be hit with a $US200 million to US$300 million “impairment charge due largely to reduced return expectations at ebookers” in the 2005 accounts.
Which begs the question – how much did ebookers actually lose and why did Cendant pay so much for it?
It also throws the spotlight on other big Katz buys – such as Orbitz for US$1.2 billion – plus the acquisition by American rival, Travelocity, of another European loss-maker, Lastminute.com, for US$1 billion.
The US giants have been on a buying spree as they chase growth outside the slowing North American market. However, it is now clear that some valuations are questionable, at best.
But Katz, who has been with Cendant for 10 years and in charge of TDS since 2001, won’t be around to provide insight, slipping out the back door with no official comment.
Chairman Silverman spun the announcement hard, looking forward not back, hyping the 2006 forecast rather than dwelling on 2005.
“TDS has clearly fallen short of its 2005 targets due principally to our international online business, particularly ebookers,” Silverman said.
“We face company-specific issues that we have identified and are addressing, not with quick fixes but with significant new investments, including the development of a single, global online platform.
“While with hindsight our past projections were too high, the fact is TDS is a strong business that we expect will achieve approximately 11% EBITDA growth next year.”
Cendant has now delayed the planned stock exchange spin-off of its TDS business until at least October while it hunts for a new leader and attempts to put its house in order before going public as a so-called “pure play”.
Ebookers operates 14 sites across Europe. It is an amalgam of numerous smaller companies operating across different channels and platforms that was cobbled together in the years before Cendant took an interest.




Gadgetry Over Getting Out There

By Martin Kelly
THE brilliant premise of Total Recall – a movie inspired by the Philip K. Dick short story We Can Remember It For You Wholesale – was that holiday memories could be implanted.
So rather than heading to the airport to check-in, you’d go to the travel agent, leaf through some brochures, consider the choices, and request – as did star Arnold Schwarzenegger – a holiday in Mars or somewhere else out of this world.
Then you’d sit in a big chair, receive some medication, get the implant, and wake up to a brand new day – refreshed, invigorated and with enough holiday memories to last a lifetime.
Imagine that, having a holiday without actually taking one (although as Schwarzenegger discovered, they can still go horribly wrong).
Funny thing is, that’s what may be happening in the struggling Australian domestic tourism market, with consumers enjoying home life and consumer items over travel experiences.
A new study from the Bureau of Tourism Research reveals that domestic tourism cis in long-term decline, while outbound travel from Australian markets continues to increase from its 2001 low.
The study also shows that domestic tourism is becoming a two-tier industry, with tourism and accommodation businesses located near low-cost carrier hubs doing well, while those without air access struggle.
There was an eight per cent drop in overall domestic trips between 1998 and 2004, despite booming air travel (+12 per cent) and a correlated spike in the use of hotels, resorts or motels (+10 per cent) over the past three years.
Key domestic tourism trends between 2001 and 2004 include:
  • People taking fewer and shorter trips while spending less
  • Strong growth in VFR at the expense of holidays
  • Some domestic leakage to outbound travel for holidays
  • Domestic travel spend slipping as a budget priority
Suffering most are the short trips, either day or overnights, hurting operators who work at the margins of the travel distribution chain.
Meanwhile, young people are turning off domestic travel en masse.
The sharpest decline in domestic nights has been among young singles living at home (-22 per cent), while the trend also applies to working singles (-6 per cent) and young couples (-9 per cent).
One theory is that the growing dependence on – and fascination with – technology may be partly to blame.
It seems that an increasing number of people, loaded with debt and a beautiful new wide-screen TV, are taking what amount to virtual holidays in their living room or home theatre.
“The abundance of television travel shows may be providing at least some viewers with a ‘virtual’ experience of destinations profiled rather than encouraging people to visit these places,” the report says.
The report also cites: “A rapid advancement in communications (including mobile phones, DVDs, digital cameras, pay television, personal computers and the Internet) and dramatic growth in community willingness to embrace this technology.”
Can you believe it? Some people would rather watch Catriona Roundtree (Getaway) or Ernie Dingo (The Great Outdoors) rather than doing it themselves.
Then they can sit around and play with the latest electronic gadget, sending texts and photographs of the family sitting on the couch watching a really good travel show.
Maybe that’s what people want. Consumer spending on toys has gone through the roof, while the travel spend is either static (international) or going backwards (domestic).
“The contribution of all leisure travel (day, overnight and overseas travel combined) to total household consumption declined steadily from 12% to 10% between June 2001 and December 2004,” the report says.
“This is despite strong growth in consumer spending outpacing the increase in the Consumer Price Index of 9% over the same period.”
The biggest drop has been travel by the residents of Australia’s capital cities, where house prices are largest and mortgages biggest, in particular Sydney and Melbourne, the largest source markets for domestic overnight leisure travel.
While international travel has been a bright spot, its share of total household consumption barely increased from 2.5% to 2.7% between 1998 and 2004.
What can the industry do to ensure travel remains a priority among Australians? Don’t ask me, Getaway starts in a few minutes and my wife is keeping a space warm on the couch.

Japanese, Aussies lead Asian Online

By Martin Kelly
JAPAN, Australia and New Zealand are the clear leaders of the Asia Pacific online travel industry pack.
According to researcher PhoCusWright, Japan is out in front with a 38 per cent market share by dollar value, while Australia and New Zealand have 30 per cent.
However, it is worth noting that Japan has a population of 127 million, compared with just 24 million for Australia and New Zealand.
The next biggest Asian markets by dollar value, says PhoCusWright, are South Korea (eight per cent), Singapore (seven per cent), China (six per cent), and Hong Kong (three per cent).
Then come Taiwan, Malaysia, and India, all on two per cent. The rest of Asia – and there’s still a few countries to go – comprise just three per cent of the total Asia Pacific online marketplace.
PhoCusWright doesn’t see the Asian status quo shifting that much over the next three years, forecasting steady growth.
By the end of this year analyst Ram Badrinathan estimates that online leisure/unmanaged business travel industry in Asia Pacific will grow 31 per cent to US$15.9 billion.
That figure is set to reach US$25.6 billion by 2007 – or 61 per cent growth over two years.
However, “payment systems remain a key obstacle. The pure e-commerce model, where purchase and fulfillment are completed seamlessly through the Web, is not a reality in most markets except Australia.
“Suppliers and travel service providers that have developed innovative work-arounds to deal with market issues will be most successful.”
He adds: “Most online agencies in APAC are seizing the lodging opportunity.
“In a region where less than 10 per cent of the room supply is managed by chains, online agencies see explosive growth in hotel aggregation and automation.
“These businesses, while widely needed, are slow to develop. Online travel agencies will still be roughly half the size of the supplier-direct channel –which includes the booming low-cost carrier segment – in 2007.”

Cheap As Chips – And Loving It!

By Martin Kelly
BEING known as cheap doesn’t scare Tiger Airways CEO Tony Davis. In fact, he reckons it is great branding.
“We definitely want to have the lowest price – Tiger Airways is the home of S$1 airfare,” he says.
Plus fees and charges, of course, although advertising laws in its home base of Singapore mean these don’t have to be included in the advertised price.
Davis, a speaker at the Wired 2005 conference, sees no issue with this and doesn’t believe he is tarnishing the brand through what some may see as concealing hidden costs.
The only thing he cares about is selling airfares and working his aircraft hard.
In fact, you get the feeling he lie awake at night fretting Tiger’s four Airbus A320 aircraft aren’t flying enough between midnight and dawn.
Part of this issue has been resolved with Tiger scheduled to fly overnight between Singapore and Darwin four times a week from December 19.
Tickets started selling last Friday and cost from S$49.98 or A$39.98.
Tiger also recently started flying between Macau-Manila-Singapore and now flies to 11 cities in six countries.
“We had just three routes at the start of this year,” says Davis, who has a huge motivation to make Tiger Airways the ‘Ryanair of Asia’ (as he puts it).
After all, it’s his money at stake. Davis owns 16 per cent of Tiger through family company Irelandia.
The balance is held by Singapore Airlines (49 per cent), Temasek (11 per cent) and Indigo (24 per cent).
And he is clearly driven to achieve growth with a philosophy of: “Stack it high, sell it cheap – think retail.”
This has led to the rapid expansion, with a 60 per cent increase in revenue and website visits since July.
“We had 60,000 visitors a week to our website earlier this year – now it’s around 120,000 a week as people get back online to check what we are doing.
“Around 75 per cent of our seat sales currently come from the internet, both from the public and agents, while the balance comes from call centres and airport outlets.
“This shows that the Low Cost Carrier model of using online marketing and technology to reduce operating costs is working in Asia as well.”
According to Hitwise statistics quoted by Davis, Tiger (at 14.86 per cent) has the highest online market share of Low Cost Carriers in Singapore, although Singapore Airlines (25.63 per cent) still dominates the airline sector.
The following background comes from www.tigerairways.com

The Tiger Airways Low-cost carrier model is based on three customer-focused core strategies:
1)  Market stimulation – creating opportunities for new travelers and empowering budget-conscious people to fly more often;
2) Stringent cost controls throughout our operations so that we can keep our fares low for travellers;
3) Capacity utilisation – maximising the number of sectors served per plane in a day with efficient air traffic planning
Tiger Airways flies to 11 cities in six countries from Singapore Changi Airport:
Darwin InternationalAirport. NEW! Flights to commence 19th Dec 2005
Macau InternationalAirport
Bangkok InternationalAirport
Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai International Airport
Hat Yai
Hat Yai International Airport
Krabi Airport
Phuket International Airport
Noi Bai InternationalAirport
Ho Chi Minh City
Tan Son Nhat International Airport
Mingangkabau International Airport
Manila (Clark)
Diosdado Macapagal InternationalAirport
Two-Letter Code: TR
Three-Letter Code: TGW
  • Four Airbus A320 aircraft, all powered by International Aero Engines (IAE) V2500 engines, a modern jet engine with proven track record of reliability and efficiency
  • Tiger Airways uses a single aircraft type for operational efficiencies which lowers cost
  • Tiger Airways A320 aircraft have a single-class configuration of 180 seats
  • Tiger Airways aims to have one of the newest fleets among the low cost carriers
  • Tiger Airways purchased 8 new A320 aircraft from Airbus and will take delivery of 2 aircraft in March 2006, 3 more aircraft in Winter 06 and 3 more aircraft in Summer 07. 
  • Tiger Airways has committed S$110 million for a 5-year maintenance contract with SIA Engineering
  • 24 hour Fleet Technical Management and provision of maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) services by SIA Engineering
  • Our aircraft maintenance program satisfies the safety standards required by Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS)
  • Our pilots are trained inline with industry standards and aviation regulations to ensure the highest safety standards are met
  • Our cabin crew are all trained and qualified on evacuation procedures and drills, fire fighting, security, survival training, first aid, use of emergency equipment in preparation to handle any situation
  • Bullet-proof cockpit doors installed across its fleet
  • Security cameras installed in passenger cabin for customer and crew safety

Meta-Search Model Comes Under Fire But Wins Key Support

By Martin Kelly
Asia Pacific’s largest online travel agent, Zuji, has belittled Meta-Search and said it will not be supporting any of the new players that have emerged in the region – Bezurk.com, Fare.net or Qunar.com.
This mirrors the approach of major online retailers in the United States, few of whom are involved with the likes of Mobissimo and Kayak – no doubt ultimately seeing them as competition.
However, big suppliers like the InterContinental Hotels Group and Cendant hotel distribution companies are backing the concept, as they have done elsewhere and the Meta-Search Engines are claiming strong industry interest.
Meta-Search Engines are shopping comparison sites that provide consumers with comparative pricing across three main travel categories – air, hotel and car.
Highlighted companies pay the Meta-Search Engines for customer leads on a cost-per-click or cost-per-acquisition basis.
Zuji CEO Scott Blume told delegates at the recent Wired 2005 conference in Singapore he doesn’t believe Meta-Search will work in Asia-Pacific.
“Meta-search is going to struggle in this region,” Mr Blume said. “I think a lot of players are not going to get behind it – we certainly aren’t. I also think it’s a big ask for a lot of Asian consumers.”
But a show of hands among Wired 2005 delegates showed that most disagree, with a significant majority believing that meta-search will succeed in the region.
Bezurk CEO Craig Hewett said Zuji’s views were not reflective of the industry and that his company plans to launch its Singapore and Australian sites by the end of this year.
“We’ve approached pretty much a who’s who of the travel industry across Asia-Pacific and have had an incredibly enthusiastic response to what we’re doing,” Hewett said.
“The fact that InterContinental Hotels group have been our anchor partner and provided early feedback on our business model has given other major hotel partners confidence.
“We have also received great support from similar travel sites to Zuji.”
So what has Zuji got against Meta-Search? Following are some points emailed to TRAVELtech by the company:
“The Meta-Search model relies on the commoditisation of travel down to a single price point for a single travel component.
“Sometimes the best deal for the consumer may not be in saving a few dollars on a flight, but in looking for packages which give value adds or savings on the cost if a total trip – which are not displayed on Meta-Search.
“This makes comparison shopping impossible apart from standalone flights or stand alone hotel nights. In Asia, the cost comparisons will have the added complexity of multi-currency.
“We view our content as proprietary, and are very cautious about deciding where Zuji content will be made available, and how we market our products and services to travellers. 
“We have decided not to provide our content to Meta-Search Engines in Asia.”

Cendant Corporate Product Switch in AP

CENDANT has replaced Travelport with KDS Corporate as its principal online travel and expense management product offering in the Asia Pacific less than two years after launching the product in the region.
The switch has been made after reports the US-developed technology did not translate well to international markets.
By contrast, KDS Corporate has been developed for the global marketplace and is much better suited to the Asia Pacific.
Cendant Corporate Travel Solutions will use KDS Corporate to drive regional growth in the corporate market.
General Manager APAC, Johnny Thorsen, believes is on the verge of a “breakthrough” in terms of online uptake among local corporate bookers.
Mr Thorsen said Australian travel corporates had the highest level of online adoption in the region with around 20 per cent of all business bookings made online.
“Right now the main difference between Australia and Asia is the level of readiness for online procurement – Asia is probably one to two years behind,” he said.
“We expect the early adopters to materialise next year in markets such as Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Thailand, South Korea, India and the Philippines
“This will followed by an acceleration of activities in 2007.
“The low cost carriers will be the driving force behind the change in Asia, as the new dedicated terminals for LCC’s go into operation in both Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.”
He said other factors would include:
  • Savings available as a result of intelligent travel policy
  • Controlled usage of one-way fares
  • General level of internet bookings for leisure travel continue to increase, resulting in easy adoption of corporate booking engines
  • Further savings available as a result of automating the booking and fulfilment process
Mr Thorsen said any clients of Travelport will be switched over to KDS Corporate, which is the market leader in Europe.

Yahoo! Southeast Asia: New Pricing For Singapore Site

YAHOO! Southeast Asia is experimenting with the key travel channel on its Singapore portal, moving away from advertising and site rental deals to a cost per click model for travel suppliers.
It is one of the the first outposts of the US internet giant to adopt this approach, which it is trialling up to Christmas.
According to Head of Search at Yahoo! Southeast Asia, Grant McCarthy, the early results are encouraging but no long-term decision has been made.
Mr McCarthy said Yahoo! Southeast Asia opted to deploy cost per click to bridge a “value gap” between what the company believed its online real estate was worth and what travel agencies have been prepared to pay.
“The gap between those two was so great it would have been uneconomic for us to continue down that path without testing other options,” Mr McCarthy said.
Hence the move to cost per click, which has seen the departure of major Asian retailer Zuji as the imbedded travel agency and a shift to a variety of suppliers offering either flights or hotels – in addition to a range of content from the likes of Lonely Planet.
At present, Asia Travel Mart is selling flights, while Asiarooms.com is providing the hotel options.
Manger Zuji Singapore, Sean Seah, said the company could not justify the new Yahoo! pricing scheme using its internal benchmarks but continues to advertise on the site, which has a major local profile.
“When we started with them three years ago, we were very much a brand building model,” Mr Seah said.
“Now we are into maximising the effectiveness of our return on investment, which we measure internally by either cost per click or cost per booking.”
Zuji is still represented on Yahoo’s Australian site, while pending new owner Travelocity dominates travel on the US portal.  

Road Test – And Guess What? Price Really Does Matter…

NOTHING beats hitting the road to really find out what’s going on in the travel industry. It’s where rhetoric gives way to reality. So what have I learned after four trips between Sydney and Singapore over the past 12 months?
Well, l now know it’s a waste of time getting a quote from my travel agent because I’ll always save by booking online through Singapore Airlines out of Sydney – anywhere between A$100 to A$300.
The entire transaction takes less than five minutes, and I can choose my own seat, although I’m praying for the day when I can pick the passenger who sits next to me (and that wouldn’t be the overweight Indian gentleman with six plastic bags and a ball of string I encountered on my last trip).
Interestingly, the pricing differences are not as pronounced ex-Singapore to key destinations such as London, Sydney and Shanghai. A quick comparison of the fares being offered on Zuji.com.sg and Singaporeair.com.sg revealed an average saving of around S$50 in favour of the airline site.
I checked the Australian pricing differential with Singapore Airlines, asking whether they had embarked on a strategy of deliberately undercutting travel agents.
The airline said no and commented: “It is misleading to compare the options available from Singapore Airlines’ website with those offered to the trade. 
“The website offers limited flight bookings only, whereas travel agents provide a full range of services and value-adds. One could never hope to emulate the valuable role of a travel agent in an on-line environment.”
Maybe, but A$100 is A$100, and three times that on one memorable occasion.
Spokeswoman Kate Pratley added that the internet constitutes 3% of all SQ’s sales and, while the “proportion is likely to increase in the years ahead, growth is slow and overall sales are increasing at a much faster rate.”
I find those comments surprising, but will continue doing my bit for the airline’s online sales – as will all those other business travellers I’ve compared fares with at check-in – unless I can get a better deal through my agent.
So what else have I learned?
  • There’s no point booking direct with a hotel because I’ll always get it cheaper online through a third-party site. Once again, the saving can be in excess of A$100 for a single night, let alone a whole booking.
  • Ergo, price parity – the practice of offering the same price across all channels – is generally just a smart-sounding term that means nothing for many hotels and groups when selling online. Four times out of five they will undercut themselves through other channels.
  • You’ll generally get a better deal at an independent hotel, which are increasingly (and indiscriminately) using the online channel to dump capacity at cheap rates. You can get a room in a top non-aligned four-star in Singapore for around A$100 including taxes, breakfast and free broadband connection.
  • Free broadband is important because some of the bigger groups are starting to charge like there’s no tomorrow – for example, S$28 for 24 hour access. In fact, it appears groups are looking to replace the revenue “stolen” by mobile phones with that generated by broadband.
  • The Asian Low Cost Carriers are damn cheap – and so are most of their websites. The booking engines are generally clunky and below par, although you can’t argue with the tiny airfares on offer throughout the region.
  • Apart from Zuji, there are no major regional online retail brands – and none really on the horizon (although there’s plenty of action in China). But that will all change as the market matures – and the best deals shift online.
Finally, one thing about Asia, everyone loves a bargain. Don’t we all. In fact, chasing deals has always been a part of travel. And right now, for simple transactions, that means heading to the Internet.

Billionaire Caught In Travel Web

Cendant Corporation has sold down part of its shareholding in Webjet to investment entities associated with Melbourne billionaire Richard Pratt.
Thorney Holdings Pty Ltd now holds more than 7% of the online travel outfit after picking up five million shares at 36 cents from Cendant company Southern Cross Distribution Systems.
The transaction yielded a profit of around A$1.5 million for Southern Cross. Cendant still holds a 6.64% Webjet shareholding and has been a long-term investor in the company.
In a statement to the Australian Stock Exchange, Thorney Holdings revealed it has been building a stake in Webjet since early July, when shares were trading at 19 cents.
Webjet Managing Director David Clarke has also been a seller to Thorney Holdings, offloading five million shares at 32 cents earlier this month.
Meanwhile, Clarke said he had no qualms about the looming presence of S8 on the register through its likely takeover of Harvey World Travel, which owns around 20% of Webjet.
HWT has the option of going to 35%, but Clarke said this would not be enough to win control of the company.
He said HWT fully exercising the option would also result in a cash bonanza for Webjet, giving the company new options.
Richard Pratt, Chairman of Visy Industries, has made his fortune through paper manufacturing and recycling.

The Unofficial Guide To Singapore

By Yoeh Siew Hoon

Let me tell you about my Singapore.

My Singapore is a bit like everyone’s. Clean, green, safe – the three most common adjectives used to describe it by residents, visitors and those who haven’t visited but have heard about it.

But to just describe it as clean, green and safe would be like saying it’s just a sterilized, well-washed vegetable (safe, healthy but rather unexciting) and that would be doing it a big disservice.

Truth is, my Singapore is a bit like a woman on the verge of turning 40. Which she is, by the way. This August 9, the nation celebrates its 40th year of independence.

Like a woman on the threshold of turning 40, Singapore is filled with all the fears and insecurities of ageing – will people still love me when I am all wrinkly and old – yet full of promise and possibilities – look at how far I have come and I have so much further to go.

And so you find Singapore today, caught between paranoia and promise.

At 40 years old, Singapore has built up a wonderful legacy.

Its infrastructure is world class. Its airport is talked about, admired and envied by everyone. Its hotels are second to none except in average rates where they are definitely down the table – which is good news for travellers.

Its mix of cultures – Indian, Malay and Chinese – has had time to simmer and stew into a seamless brew of scents and spices that is, forgive the pun, Uniquely Singapore.

And even though some travellers may complain about the price of beer here, this is one brew they love and travel miles for.

Over the last few years, like a more confident and matured woman, Singapore has also been lifting up its skirt a little. It’s cut loose on nightlife, entertainment and the arts scene.

The bar and club scene is vibrant, dynamic and fun, even non-stop. Now Singapore parties all night while cities like Bangkok go to sleep early.

Why, it even dared to strip down to bra and panties to dance on bar tops.

It tried a few daring moves. Hip, funky hotels (Scarlet), theme bars (Eski) and beach parties appeared. It skydived, reverse bungy-jumped and raced its way into the media spotlight.

But like all women, it can be fickle, maybe a little unsure about how far she should go before she is judged by a jury of her peers. A gay party, the Nation Party, was refused a licence and thus it moved its merry way to Phuket.

But one cancellation does not a nation make. And Singapore forges ahead. She knows she’s got 40 good years behind her, and a lot more years ahead.

But she should also know that heck, at 40, a woman had better stop flirting and teasing with change and instead, embrace it firmly and desperately, and go where no woman has dared to tread.

For the official guide to Singapore, visit www.visitsingapore.com

Virgin Sleeps Around, Seeks New Partners

By Martin Kelly

Man cannot live on bread alone – nor can the most modern of travel businesses survive and thrive using a single sales channel such as the Internet – even when it is delivering more than 90 per cent of business.

Virgin Blue, which generates between A$6 and A$9 million in online revenue every day, has just taken another major step in its distribution diversification program, launching its Application Protocol Interface (API).

Launch customers are online retailers travel.com.au and lastminute.com.au,  powered by Arnold Travel technology, while links will be provided to Zuji and Carlson Wagonlit.

The API provides these companies with a “doorway” into Virgin Blue’s new and more flexible Navataire Skylights7 booking platform – giving them live access to most inventory.


The integration costs are significant, and borne by the agents, but Virgin Blue claimed the upside is enormous, and that long-term benefits can be found on a number of levels – notably access, speed and better customer service.

It also gives online retailers a “hands free” approach to increasing productivity and commissions through the carrier, which can reach eight per cent if sales targets are reached or exceeded.

Manager e-Commerce at Virgin Blue, Steven Greenway, said the days of Low Cost Carriers enjoying explosive growth solely through the online Business to Consumer sales channel have largely disappeared as the sector matures.

“All Low Cost carriers will use a multi-channel strategy as they grow into new more, complex markets and customer segments in order to drive revenue – the trick is to avoid overhead costs,” he said after speaking at TRAVELtech in Sydney.

“Relying on the web alone for sales growth produces a restricted framework – growth can be achieved but only in increments.”

Consequently, Virgin Blue is also expanding its GDS coverage – adding Amadeus to its existing relationships with Galileo and Sabre.

“The GDS are very efficient in terms of aggregating content and providing agents with a tool to book airfares,” Mr Greenway said.

“At the end of the day, the GDS, as much as we say we hate them, provide a service. Pricing, however, generally outstrips value.”

To overcome this, Virgin charges a A$15 premium for the GDS fares, which are usually premium rates available to corporate or government clients, or international markets it does not have access to, such as the Pacific Islands.

Therefore Virgin Blue is able to keep key corporate and agency customers happy by giving them better GDS coverage (ie: service) a necessary move if the company is to continue growing beyond its low cost base.

Other distribution options are also emerging in the Australian market. Virgin has had discussions with Bezurk, a travel search engine set to launch soon, but has not yet signed with them.

Greenway said while travel search engines can deliver online sales leads on a “cost per click” basis, the technology they use to screen scrape deals “pounds” the member websites, affecting usability for (commission free) customers going direct.

However, he said, the likes of Sidestep and Kayak are going well in the and that usually adopts American trends so the odds are that travel search engines will probably work in this market.

On the product side, Greenway said Virgin will ramp up its wholesale offering and improve Dynamic Packaging technology to better integrate a “limited number of simple products”.

So, Virgin Blue is in the process of becoming a hybrid carrier as it gets squeezed at both ends of the market by Qantas (top) and Jetsar ((bottom).

“But we are staying true to our low cost base and still believe in user pays,” said Greenway. It’s just that the times – and market – is changing.




Hotel Bookings – Growth Engine For Retail Travel Sites

By Martin Kelly

HOTELS have clearly emerged as the growth engine for online retail travel companies and Asia Pacific is set to play an increasing role with the likes of Expedia, which started trading as a stand-alone company last week, boosting its regional presence.

Travelocity is also experiencing extraordinary growth, reporting a 41% increase in hotel room nights during the June quarter when compared with 2004, while packaging revenue grew 81% and now comprises 30% of total revenue. By comparison, air transaction revenue grew 9%.

Over the same period, Expedia’s major accommodation brand – Hotels.com – recorded more than more than $US500 million in quarterly gross bookings for the first time in its    history.

Expedia’s Regional Director of Hotels and Destination Services, Cameron Jones, said the company is experiencing double digit hotel booking growth in most Asia Pacific markets.

“Hong Kong in particular has experienced exceptional growth,” Jones said.

Jones said Expedia has added new staff in Hong Kong, Tokyo and Sydney to service and grow the existing customer base.

In other developments, Jones said the integration of the Expedia and Hotels.com technology platforms would be complete by the end of September, allowing hoteliers to manage inventory on both sites through a single extranet.

He added there has been strong regional adoption of Direct Connect, which allows Expedia to sell live inventory straight from a hotel’s Property Management System.

Meanwhile, Expedia reported that international gross bookings increased 73% during the June quarter.

“Revenue grew 14%, primarily driven by the international merchant hotel business, acquisitions and the air business,” the company said in a statement.

“Merchant hotel revenues increased 9% for the second quarter, (however) revenue per room night was flat, resulting from a 5% increase in the average daily room rates, offset by a decrease in merchant hotel raw margins.

“Air revenues increased 7% during the quarter, primarily from a 21% increase in air tickets sold, partially offset by an 11% decline in revenue per air ticket.

“Expedia, Inc.’s domestic air and merchant hotel businesses operate in a challenging competitive environment, due primarily to increased competition from third party distributors, increased promotion by suppliers of their own websites and higher overall occupancy rates and load factors.

“This environment is generally expected to continue.”


GDS In Star Chamber

SOME of the world’s leading airlines are pushing publicly and aggressively for GDS distribution alternatives through the Bangkok-based Star Alliance.

At a press conference in Japan last week, the Star Alliance told media that it would actively support new entrants to the distribution marketplace -provided the price is right.

And in a further backhander to the incumbents, Star Alliance Chief Executive Officer Jaan Albecht says the “new entrants” – known as GNEs – may provide better service for less money.

“Our 16 member carriers currently pay a combined total of around US$2 billion in annual GDS fees and we see a definite potential to reduce these,” says Mr Albrecht.

“The GNEs will not only allow the member airlines to cut distribution costs, but also permit the carriers to explore new functionalities which the current GDS do not provide.”

He says Air Canada, Lufthansa, SAS, Singapore Airlines and United are at the forefront of this initiative on behalf of all Star Alliance members.

The aim is to draw up a single strategy for selecting GNE partners.
“It is our aim to finalise the GNE selection by the end of the year,” says Albrecht.

Star Alliance was established in 1997and claims its members represent almost 29% of world airline revenue.

Members are Air Canada, Air New Zealand, ANA, Asiana Airlines, Austrian, bmi, LOT Polish Airlines, Lufthansa, Scandinavian Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Spanair, TAP Portugal, Thai Airways International, United, US Airways and VARIG Brazilian Airlines.

South African Airways will be integrated over the next 12 months.


Record Traffic Levels For Aussie Travel Web Sites

CONSUMER traffic to Australian travel websites is at an all-time high, according to Nielsen//NetRatings and Hitwise.

Not surprisingly, given the launch of Jetstar, the sharpest growth has occurred within the airline sites over the past two years.

However, hotels and travel agencies are not far behind.

According to Hitwise:

  • Commercial Airlines >> Increased 69% between December 2003 and January 2005
  • Travel Agencies >> Increased 40% between December 2003 and January 2005
  • Destinations & Accommodation >> Increased 46% between December 2003 and January 2005

Meanwhile Nielsen//NetRatings reports a similar pattern.

Senior Analyst Andrew Eckford said the trend has been particularly evident during the first three months of 2005.

“Over the past few weeks we have seen consistently more than 630,000 unique browsers a week to audited travel sites.

“This is significantly higher than seen for any week since we launched the Market Intelligence measurement for the travel industry.”

Tables Below From Nielsen//NetRatings and Hitwise:


Nielsen//NetRatings Market Intelligence, Domestic Traffic to Travel Sites by Category for February 2005

Category              Unique Browsers      Page Impressions

Travel Portals       1,272,537                  10,659,606
Destinations         488,256                      5,065,915
Hotels                   203,342                     1,640,914
Rental Cars          133,497                     1,576,388

Hitwise – Travel – Agencies ” February 2005 ” Ranks by ‘Visits’
Name                           Domain                                               Market Share

1 Flight Centre             www.flightcentre.com                 11.50%
2 Webjet                      www.webjet.com.au                     6.31%
3 lastminute.com.au    www.au.lastminute.com              5.96%
4 Expedia.com             www.expedia.com                         4.47%
5 ZUJI Australia           www.zuji.com                                 3.91%
6 Best Flights              www.bestflights.com.au              3.44%
7 Travel.com.au          www.travel.com.au                        3.18%
8 Octopus Travel        www.octopustravel.com/au         2.50%
9 ITN.net                      www.itn.net                                    1.92%
10 ninemsn Travel       www.ninemsn.com.au                 1.90%


Hitwise – Travel – Destinations and Accommodation ” February 2005 ” Ranks by ‘Visits’
Name                         Domain                                              Market Share

1 Wotif.com                www.wotif.com                            6.71%
2 HotelClub.net           www.hotelclub.net                      5.70%
3 RatesToGo.com      www.ratestogo.com                   2.93%
4 Need It Now            www.needitnow.com.au            1.96%
5 TravelMate              www.travelmate.com.au            1.91%
6 Trip Advisor            www.tripadvisor.com                 1.60%
7 Totaltravel.com       www.totaltravel.com                   1.37%
8 Visit Victoria           www.visitvictoria.com.au           1.36%
9 Lonely Planet          www.lonelyplanet.com               1.35%
10 AAA Tourism        www.aaatourism.com.au           1.30%

Nielsen//NetRatings Market Intelligence, Top Destination Sites for February 2005

                                            Unique Browsers                 Page Impressions

1 visitvictoria.com              161,372                                  1,353,450
2 ourbrisbane.com             154,053                                  1,235,204
3 visitnsw.com.au              60,383                                    559,331
4 discovertasmania.com    48,739                                    813,611
5 westernaustralia.com     39,281                                    337,420
6 southaustralia.com          21,653                                    319,092

Ends/ 22 March, 2005

Travel Clicks Worth More Than Retail Bricks

By Martin Kelly

ONLINE travel in Australia has reached a milestone of sorts with the stockmarket capitalisation of Webjet (WEB) surging past traditional retailers – including significant share holder Harvey World Travel (HWT).

Webjet, valued at just four cents 12 months ago, raced to an all-time high of 34 cents on the Australian Stock Exchange following recent strong growth and a maiden net profit A$1.44 million.

Its price seems to have settled above 30 cents, giving it a market value north of A$75 million, compared with Harvey World’s recent average capitalization of around $65 million.

Yet HWT – which has more than 500 franchised agencies throughout Australia, New Zealand and South Africa – made more money, recording a A$2.52 million net profit for 2004/05.

This traditional and well-run travel company also pays investors a healthy annual dividend of more than five per cent.

So what gives – why are investors ascribing a greater value to Webjet than HWT?

Basically, they are betting that Webjet has much better growth prospects than traditional franchise retailers like HWT or Jetset.

And there’s definitely something to that.

The online travel market is still relatively immature and companies in this space – provided they have the technology – can operate much more effectively in a low commission environment.

It is also easier for them to expand because they are starting from a lower base and – like the Low Cost Carriers – have a fresh business model.

Of course, the stock market gets it wrong all the time and there are currently faint echoes of the dot bomb era in some valutaions.

However, the difference now is that many online companies such as Webjet are real businesses making real money.

Not that HWT Managing Director Barry Mayo would care about the differing valuations – his company’s 19 per cent Webjet holding, which cost just A$1.9 million, is now worth A$13 million.
HWT also has the option to take its Webjet stake to 35 per cent.

The Webjet share price rises come on the back of consistently strong business performance.  In July and August, Webjet’s turnover exceeded A$23 million, more than three times last year’s figures.

“The increase strongly validates our business model,” said Managing Director David Clarke.

However, the Webjet results failed to detail the comany’s revenue mix and growth prospects.


Good Times Ahead in 2005 – Abacus

ABACUS International has forecast solid growth in Asia-Pacific travel bookings for the rest of 2005.

The Singapore-based GDS reports that bookings for the first four months of this year are already up 21% over the same period in 2004, which was the best for a decade.

Vietnam was the standout performer during April with a 25% increase in bookings over March.

The established North Asian markets of South Korea (22%) and Hong Kong (16%) also grew strongly, while FIT bookings in Indochina and Central Asia increased 14%.

Four out of five bookings (78%) made in Asia-Pacific during April were for travel within the region.

Abacus President and CEO, Don Birch, says: “We are seeing signs of solid growth which, barring unforeseen circumstances, we expect to continue for the rest of the year.”

He says total bookings on the Abacus system during April increased by 7% month on month to 2.9 million, up 10% over the previous year.

A black spot has been the slow recovery of passenger traffic to the tsunami hit markets such as Krabi and Phuket where “we are seeing a 60% to 70% drop in bookings” over last year.

Abacus now distributes through 11,000 travel agency locations in 22 markets throughout the Asia-Pacific region.


Travel.com.au Launches DP

New management at perennial under-achiever Travel.com.au Limited (TVL) has launched Dynamic Packaging on both its sites – travel.com.au and lastminute.com.au.

TVL has also ended its dual supplier approach to GDS, concluding a long-standing relationship with Sabre Pacific and fully committing to Amadeus, which has a stake in the company.

These moves come after disappointing results for the six months to December 31, a period in which TVL lost A$745,000 compared with a net profit of A$9000 for the corresponding period in 2003.

Encouraging sales growth of 9% was completely overshadowed by a 20% blowout in expenses largely due to the relaunch of the main site with a new design and booking engine.

Sales were driven solely by lastminute.com.au, which grew 35%, while Travel.com.au continued to disappoint with a 1% fall in sales. The bulk of its bookings are still handled offline.

Acting CEO Adam Johnson, who replaced incumbent Bill Gair in mid-February, said the focus at TVL – which employs 80 staff – is on growing automated sales.

He said this approach has been given strong impetus through the acquisition of Arnold Travel Technology (which Johnson used to run) via a share issue late last year.

As a result, interests associated with Arnold now control around 25% of the company. These include Johnson and new Chairman Roger Sharp.

Johnson claimed the early results from its Dynamic Packaging flight/hotel offering were encouraging, adding that automated booking numbers had increased on both sites as customers became familiar with the new booking engine.

“We’re already ahead of budget and are going to be promoting it more over the next couple of months,” he said.

Its Dynamic Packaging product is branded as ‘TripSaver’ which allows clients to “book flights and hotels together and save”.

Chairman Roger Sharp described Travel.com.au in the six month results as a company which has “traditionally operated as an offline travel agency with a website offering limited online functionality”.

It is a situation he aims to change.

Sharp said the aim now was to slow the cash burn – at December 31, TVL had reserves of A$2.5 million compared with A$4.4 million six months earlier – while growing sales.

But how? “Just having the Arnold booking engine in there means we can reduce costs, so as we grow we’ll need fewer people to handle a larger number of bookings,” said Sharp.

“The trick is to get growth in online transactions, and get it past our offline business.”

Ends/ 22 March, 2005

Vroom, Vroom, Vroom – Car Hire Hits Online Accelerator

By Martin Kelly

Online car hire is taking off online faster than a BMW down the Frankfurt Autobahn.

Everywhere you look on the web there are new outfits with catchy names such as www.drivenow.com.au, www.webcarhire.com.au, www.standbycars.com.au, www.rentnewcars.com.au and www.bargainwheels.com.au – to name just a few.

They have come from nowhere and are providing a dynamic new distribution channel for suppliers such as Hertz, Avis and Europcar, who inadvertently find themselves in a win-win situation.

Not only are they getting extra business without doing much, but they also have a great chance of keeping it.

That’s because many of the new Australian sites simply display rates from all the leading car hire companies on a matrix that takes them back to the chosen suppliers booking engine, allowing the big boys to own that customer.

Others have a direct XML feed in to the supplier databases, offering real-time availability and dynamic pricing. Improvements in supplier technology over the past 12 months have played a large role in making this possible.

“I think the car companies are astounded – like ‘where are these bookings coming from’,” said one website owner.

The key thing it’s all happened so quickly. For example, when the progressive www.drivenow.com.au started in September, 2003, competitors were few and far between – now you can’t Google “car hire” without getting deluged with options.

Meanwhile, established players such as DriveAway Holidays, Holiday Autos and Global Cars are reinventing themselves and going online in a very big way – utilizing the web for both business-to-business and business-to-consumer sales.

These outfits are also investing heavily in the back end, with technology creating enormous booking and financial efficiencies.

The recent merger between Holiday Autos and World Cars to create Holiday Autos Australia is an excellent case in point.

Managing Director of Holiday Autos Australia, Chris Hamill, said technology played a major role in the deal.

“The Holiday Autos system is very good,” Mr Hamill said. Not surprising when you consider the might of this global giant, which does more than one million ‘hires’ each year.

Mr Hamill said affiliate marketing has been very successful with some travel agents using a standard ‘white label’ booking engine setup, while others are opting for the full XML feed. Either way they are making money.

“The online agents we have signed up are doing very well,” Mr Hamill said.

DriveAway Holidays is also moving into the affiliate marketing space, announcing a new white label booking engine for agency sites after successfully testing with YHA Travel.

National Sales Manager at DriveAway, Doug McFarlane, said the company is having a big year and that much of its incremental growth is coming from online sales through agents.

Global Cars is another vehicle-based wholesaler in the midst of ramping up its capabilities and expects to roll out a new integrated system, based on Microsoft .NET, within the next couple of months.

It will have all the bells and whistles, allowing for direct inventory access, affiliate marketing and the rest, but for Managing Director Andrew Morgan it’s all about creating efficiencies.

“I wanted to do all this six years ago and I couldn’t but now I can,” he said.


Sabre Bids For Lastminute

Sabre has offered to buy Lastminute.com Plc for 577 million pounds to add to its Travelocity brand and create Europe’s biggest online travel retailer.

It is offering 165 pence a share in cash for Lastminute.

Analysts believe the offer is fairly priced but say there is still a chance rival U.S. groups such as IAC/InterActiveCorp or Cendant Corp may counter bid.

Lastminute Chairman Brian Collie endorsed the Sabre approach, telling reporters: “This is the only offer we’ve ever had, and it’s a very good one.”

Sabre says buying Lastminute will strengthen its negotiating position with global airline and hotel companies, allowing it to offer better deals to customers.

May 13, 2005

JTB and Viator Combine to Distribute Japanese Product

A new distribution deal between JTB Corp, Japan’s biggest travel company, and Sydney-based Viator is already yielding strong sales, according to Viator CEO Rod Cuthbert.

Cuthbert said Viator has now added JTB’s huge Japanese destination product range to its database, which is marketed through through Viator.com and 500 affiliate sites such as Hotwire, Travelocity, Zuji and Priceline.com.

Products include sightseeing and destination activities like the famous Shinansen Bullet Train tours.

“We’ve been surprised and pleased at the booking levels so far,” Cuthbert said.

“Clearly, given the perceived language challenges a destination like Japan presents, people like to get themselves organized before they go.”

Cuthbert said the initial product focus is on Tokyo, Osaka, Hiroshima and Kyoto, while the primary target market is inbound English-speaking travellers to Japan.

Cuthbert said Viator has partnered with the Sunrise Tours division of JTB.

“It’s a clear leader in English-language tours to Japan,” he said.

“There’s a bias towards educating visitors about the culture and history of Japan, and that’s exactly what our customers are looking for.”

Viator claims to be the world’s leading online aggregator and seller of destination product. Purchases are typically made by travellers prior to departure.

JTB Corp. is Japan’s largest travel company. Founded in 1912, it has offices worldwide and annual revenues in excess of US$13 billion.

More than seven million overseas travellers are expected to visit Japan during 2005, according to JTB estimates.

Ends / March 22, 2005


Sucker Punched By Technology – Blackberry The Culprit

By Yeoh Siew Hoon

I have to confess. I have succumbed. I got a Blackberry.  Despite declaring I wouldn’t, despite my sincerest desire to be free of it, I have caved in.  Let me tell you what did it. Paranoia.

I was about to leave for a 19-day vacation in France and two days before I was due to catch the flight, I got an email from a friend saying there may not be Internet access where we would be going.

I panicked. So many things to do. Deadlines to meet. Loose ends that had to be tied.

Plus, a friend’s voice kept whispering in my ear. “Get a Blackberry. It’s perfect for someone like you,” she said.

Two other friends I spoke to had told me differently. One said he gave it up after a week because he found it too intrusive and another, a hotelier, said he regretted ever insisting his company gave every manager one.

“Now that we have it, we have no excuse not to respond to emails.”

To which my tech geek friend – notice it’s always a woman who has an answer to everything – rebutted, “If it’s a company mandate, then yes, I can see how it would be intrusive. But you? You are a free agent. It will free you even more. You can decide when to switch it on or off.” 
Well, when you put it like that …

The day I was due to catch my flight, I got a call from another friend (male) who said, “Babe, I hope you’re leaving all your gadgets behind.”

“No. And I’m bringing my Blackberry,” I said proudly.

“Babe, you are insane,” he declared.

So, now I am paranoid about whether this latest device will ruin my holiday. Already half my baggage is made up of gadgets and all the paraphernalia that come with them.

Here’s what I am carrying. An iBook G4, which has just been upgraded to the Tiger platform (grrr) and 1GB RAM, a hard disk drive containing stuff from my PowerBook G4 which I leave behind when I travel, my Sony digital camera, iPOD, iPOD Shuffle, Altec Lansing speakers, my mobile phone, radio and, of course, the BB.

Sometimes, I wonder why we even bother to go on holidays. Before we leave, we have so much stuff to clear. While we are away, we worry about stuff left behind. When we return, we have to deal with a backlog of stuff. 

Here’s the other thing. When I told my friends I was going away for 19 days, everyone went, “Wow, so long.” No one said, “How wonderful.”

It seems to me that we live in a guilt-laden world. Few of us take long breaks anymore. Most of us can’t afford to be away for an extended period of time.

Or perhaps it’s because we don’t know how to be idle anymore.

Someone is late for an appointment and what do we do?  We take out our phones and start SMS-ing. We go on holidays and what do we do? We check our emails.

When Tom Hodgkinson, author of “How To Be Idle”, was asked on practical tipson how to be idle, he said, “Part of this individualism is you feel this pressure that you alone have to conquer the world, and if you don’t work all the hours God gives then you start feeling really guilty.

“If you can stop feeling guilty, then I think it’s easier to start doing what you want to do.

“The way to stop feeling guilty is to read stuff - I’m not saying my book, but works by Bertrand Russell or Oscar Wilde, people who weren’t losers but who didn’t believe in the work ethic, and argued this thing about guilt or wrote philosophy about idleness.”

A friend drove me to the airport. “Is this all you have?” he said, referring to my one small suitcase.

“Yes,” I said proudly. I pride myself in travelling light. “Half of it are books and my high-tech toys.”

“For 19 days? Are you sure you will have enough clothes? Or were you just planning to wear your underwear throughout?” he asked.

So, now I am worried that I will be a semi-naked albeit fully wired traveller.

Actually, I am most worried about whether I will even have time to be idle during my break and whether my Blackberry will make a fruitcake out of me.



Melbourne Hotels Win Asia-Pacific E-Marketer Award

Crown Towers Hotel and Crown Promenade Hotel in Melbourne have been jointly named Asia-Pacific E-Marketer of the Year in the annual TravelCLICK and Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International (HSMAI) awards.

The Melbourne properties scored the award, restricted to TravelCLICK customers, for significantly increasing business through electronic distribution channels.

During 2004, Crown Towers, a 482-room luxury hotel, used search engine marketing to increase its website visitors by approximately 41%.

Over the same period room nights 40%, while 2004 revenue rose 50% over the previous year.

Sister hotel, the Crown Promenade, a 465-contemporary property, targeted travel agents and became one of the top 15 hotels in Melbourne, based on revenue booked through the GDS, within one year of opening. 

Hyatt International was selected as the Overall E-Marketer of the Year winner based on its strong performance in electronic channels and effective use of both targeted electronic media and competitive knowledge.

Other E-Marketer Award winners are:

  • North America E-Marketer of the Year – Kimpton Hotel & Restaurant Group
  • Latin America E-Marketer of the Year – Country Club Lima Hotel
  • Europe/Middle East/Africa E-Marketer of the Year – Radisson Edwardian International Plaza Hotel Heathrow
  • E-Marketer Lifetime Achievement – Tom Civitano, Executive Vice President Sales & Marketing, The Plaza Hotel, New York

TravelCLICK is a US-based company that provides electronic marketing and price benchmarking services to the hotel industry. It has more than 8000 customers across 140 countries.



Strong Foundations For Decipher.biz

Decipher.biz – billed as the world’s largest tourism data portal – today announced it has signed three of Australia’s largest travel companies and all state tourism bodies as foundation members.

CEO Mark Phillips said Decipher, which aggregates tourism data from more than 200 sources and features a range of business planning tools, wants to further boost sales of its resources through industry resellers. 

“We’re looking for distributors and want to establish a network of resellers,” Mr Phillips said. Decipher packages start at A$550 for small companies, up to A$33,000 for large corporations.

Mr Phillips said Decipher had been buoyed by strong industry support with hotel group Best Western, hire car companies Avis and Budget signing on as foundation members.

“They view it as a valuable business planning tool – it allows them to access the latest data from around the country and build that information into their business strategies,” Mr Phillips said.

Other partners include AAA Tourism, Australian Tourism Export Council, Tourism Queensland, Tourism Tasmania, South Australia Tourism Commission, Northern Territory Tourism Commission, Australian Capital Tourism, Tourism Australia, Tourism Victoria and Tourism NSW.

He said www.decipher.biz has attracted more than 7000 unique visitors since its launch last month by the Minister for Small Business and Tourism, Fran Bailey, with the average visit lasting 20 minutes.

“I think this shows we have really hit the mark,” Mr Phillips said.

Managing Director of Decipher Technologies, Peter O’Clery, said Decipher aggregates the latest statistics from disparate sources such as the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Tourism Research Australia, State and Regional tourism organisations and private companies like Roy Morgan.

“It is designed to help tourism operators of all sizes, as well as local governments, regional tourism authorities, destination marketers and industry organisations.”

Decipher has been in development for many years and is the result of a working alliance involving the Sustainable Tourism Cooperative Research Centre, Amadeus and international consultants Ernst & Young.

Much of the funding has come from the Federal Government, which identified poor access to as a major industry issue in the late-2003 Tourism White Paper.

Decipher Technologies is administered as a business unit of the CRC for Sustainable Tourism Pty Ltd, which is responsible for developing and managing the commercial operating system.

Tourism contributes nearly 6 per cent of Australia’s employment and earns about A$17 billion in exports.

Ends / 22 March, 2005

Competition Heats Up For Asian Search Engines

FLEDGLING Asian travel search engine, Bezurk, has landed its first major client – the InterContintental Hotels Group (IHG) ahead of its launch later this year.

It is the latest in a slew of Asian travel search engine announcements.

Airline search engine Fare.net, based in Singapore, has already taken off and is offering comparative pricing on airfares across Asia.

Pascal Bordat, CEO and Co-Founder of Fare.Net said: “We see a huge opportunity in Asia for a service such as Fare.Net. 

“In the US, several such comparison shopping portals are already successful and growing rapidly.

“We are equally confident of the success of Fare.Net in Asia Pacific.

“After Singapore, we plan to successively launch in Malaysia, Thailand and Australia in the next six months, with other key markets like Hong Kong, India, South Korea, Taiwan, and China soon thereafter. ”

Beijing-based Qunar.com has launched into the Chinese market with a Mandarin language search site, while Oodles 100% Travel Search is planning to go live within a couple of months.

Qunar, which means “where are you going” in Mandarin, offers price comparison search capabilities across air, hotels, car rental and tour packages.

The company plans to complete beta-testing of its English, Japanese and Korean versions by the end of September.

Things are also moving quickly at Bezurk.

Chairman James Vaile said the company will offer accommodation search ”by September or October” before expanding into other areas.

 ”We think that is a good stepping stone,” he said.

Mr Vaile said he has no doubts the Asian market is ready for specialist search engines, which operate on similar principles to the majors such as Google and Yahoo!

The major difference is that instead of evaluating all travel deals, specialist search engines typically only monitor the sites of its member companies.

These companies then reimburse the search engines on a ‘pay per click’ basis for sending traffic to their sites.

“The reaction has been phenomenal since we launched a couple of weeks ago, particularly from the Internet portals, which recognise what a perfect fit this is for the region,” Mr Vaile said.

Regional Director of E-Commerce at IHG, Craig Hewett, said travel search engines had really worked for the group in the US.

“We want to be apart of the action,” he said.

Mr Hewett said an advantage of travel search engines for suppliers is that they facilitate direct booking.

“By sending customers direct to our branded websites – including InterContinental, Crowne Plaza and Holiday Inn – it enables us to forge direct relationships between travellers and our brands.”

Meanwhile, in Australia Oodles.com.au is also preparing to start.

But instead of accommodation, it will be launching with car hire and Director Steve Sherlock said agreements had been signed with all major suppliers.

He added that its technology development – outsourced to India – is progressing well.

Mr Sherlock said Oodles had decided to start with car hire because just a handful of companies dominate the global marketplace.

Oodles expects to launch within a couple of months and is currently seeking additional capital.


Search Engine Marketing Takes Off – Are You On Board?

SEARCH Engines are going gangbusters. Advertisers – travel companies prominent among them – are lining up to get on board. Just look at the first quarter results for the two biggest brands, Google and Yahoo!.

Google’s first quarter profit quadrupled to US$369.2 million. Revenue – almost entirely from online advertising – increased 93% to US$1.3 billion. The news pushed Google shares, which listed last August at US$85, beyond US$220.

Meanwhile, Yahoo!, the most popular US website, posted net income of US$205 million for the first three months of 2005, more than double its US$101 million profit for the same period last year.

Big money, massive profit growth rates, something is very real happening here. In simple terms, the Search Engines are getting mobbed by businesses large and small which want to advertise with them.

And this is just the beginning. Search Engine Marketing (SEM) – the art of highlighting websites, brands or products in response to consumer “keyword” queries – is still in the first flush of youth.

Google, which has entered the lexicon and seems to have been around forever, is just 10 years old. Yahoo! was started in a Stanford University trailer in 1994, and listed a year later.

Here in Australia, the SEM story is equally positive. Why? Because SEM is cost-effective (for now at least) and it works. In fact, Australian internet advertising in general is on the rise with SEM the current star performer.

According to a survey by emitch and Roy Morgan Research, prominent advertisers estimate that 9% of their total advertising budget (or around A$800,000) will be allocated to the internet in 2005.

These experts are increasingly shifting their spend to SEM and believe the major strengths of the internet as an advertising medium are (1) targeting capabilities; (2) customer reach; and (3) cost effectiveness.

They also saw “immediacy” and “accessibility” as major strengths.

And with travel one of the most searched for categories on the Internet, there are clearly major opportunities for travel businesses to market online, with very real benefits for those who get in early.

The buzz among travel industry early adopters is very strong. At the recent Search Engine Room conference in Sydney, around 25% of the 250 attendees came from travel, with many actively using SEM to great effect.

Importantly, it’s not just airlines, hotel and destination sites who are getting on board. Corporate travel, car hire and destination sites are all using a mix of organic and paid search to generate sales leads.

Organic search results are the links which appear on the main panel in response to a keyword searches such as “cheap airfares” or “Gold Coast hotels” – while paid search is generally the boxed listings to the side.

Most experts like to have a mix of the two to balance risk and return.

Paid search advertisements are priced – and ranked – according to demand. Researcher Frost & Sullivan estimates that the average cost of a keyword is around A$1, although prices can range from 10 cents to $50.

Organic results are much less predictable with high rankings determined by a number of factors, in particular relevance of text, number of site links and popularity.

In Australia, the clear search engine market leader is Google with around 50% of eyeballs, followed by ninemsn and Yahoo! (which also offers organic and paid search to numerous partner sites, including ninemsn, through Overture).

Combined, these sites are just about the most popular segment on the Internet, and Nielsen//NetRatings reckons search engines have a “reach” of 71% among the 13+ million Australians with Internet access.

That’s a lot of potential customers. Can they find you?

May 13, 2005

Totally Teetotal on Technology

Can you survive a week without your mobile and Blackberry? Yeoh Siew Hoon goes cold turkey in the golden land of temples – Myanmar

I’ve just been reading a report about what it takes to keep the 21st century business traveller happy.

Apparently, the four top requirements are a direct flight, a flat bed, a Blackberry and being met at the airport – so said 1000 business travellers who were surveyed at the recent Business Travel Show in London.

According to the survey:

  • 62% said a direct flight would make their journey more enjoyable
  • 48% craved to see a chauffeur hold up a card with their name on at their destination airport
  • 46% said they wouldn’t be parted from their Blackberry for the world
  • 43% longed for the undeniable luxury of a flat bed on their long-haul flights

So there we have it – the 21st century business traveler is a spoilt and insecure species.
Spoilt because he or she craves luxuries and comforts and insecure because he or she can’t do without their communication devices – some psychiatrists believe our fear of being without our mobiles or Blackberries stems more from insecurity than conscientiousness about our work.

In other words, we all need to be needed and we all want to feel indispensable in our jobs. Imagine if everything ran smoothly while we were away and were out of touch …

Anyway, the survey got me thinking that if they were ever to do similar research on what it takes to keep a 21st century leisure traveler happy, I am quite sure that top on the list would be no mobile phones and no Blackberries.

I say this because I have just spent a week in Myanmar, mobile-less and email-less.
And I am glad to say I survived. In fact, more than survived. I felt a sense of freedom and liberation that I had not felt in years. It was like walking on winged feet through a golden land of temples.

At first, it felt strange. In the first few hours of arrival, my mind kept wandering to my phone and laptop, wondering what messages I was missing and if I had missed any deadlines. My fingers actually started to itch.

Switching off my mind was infinitely harder than switching off my electronic gadgets.

It’s hard when you are an SMS addict, like I am, to suddenly go cold turkey. But let’s face it, if you have to go cold turkey, Myanmar is the best possible rehabilitation clinic on earth for us urban, email, mobile phone junkies.

This is a land that is timeless. It’s a place steeped in time. People have time. They take time to do things. They do not rush. They sit. They talk. They pray. They smile a lot. They do not have much but they have a lot.

It teaches you not to hurry because why worry? There is time.

By the time I went to bed at the Pansea that first night, I was in step with Myanmar.

I dreamt of white clouds, not Blackberries.

During the course of the week, there were temptations thrown my way. Perish the idea but some hotels now actually have business centres with Internet facilities.

The temptation was strongest on “The Road to Mandalay” cruise from Mandalay to Bagan where I had to spend three nights on the ship in really close proximity to an Internet connection.

It was tough but whenever I felt the old habit creeping up on me, I immediately ordered a gin tonic, recited Rudyard Kipling and counted flying fishes.

I therefore recommend Myanmar to any 21st century business traveler who wants to learn to do without his or her Blackberry.

Truth is, it’s amazing how easy it is to do without when you are forced to do without.

Ends / 21 March, 2005

Get Set For Wired 2005 – Speakers Sponsors Announced

Speakers and sponsors have been announced for Wired 2005: Asia Travel Matrix, which is happening at the Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel in Singapore on October 20 & 21.

It’s set to be the best travel technology, marketing and distribution conference staged in the region.

  • Sponsors: Singapore Tourism Board, Amadeus, Abacus International, Millennium and Copthorne International, TravelCLICK, Pegasus and WORLDHOTELS.
  • Industry partners: Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International, the Hotel Electronic Distribution Network Association, MarketShare and the MacroVision Network.
  • Media: Yahoo! South-East Asia is the online media partner, while e-Hotelier, 4 Hoteliers and Travel Trade Report are also supporting

A dedicated site will be launched in mid-July and tickets for the two-day conference will start at just US$395.

Meanwhile, check out the speakers below who have already confimed, and click here to register for updates – stay tuned for more big names.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact the oraganisers Yeoh Siew Hoon – yeoh.sh@pacific.net.sg – or Martin Kelly – mjk@iform.com.au.

  • Ram Badrinathan, Analyst, Asia-Pacific, PhoCusWright
  • Nicole Bernthaler, Chief Marketing Officer, World Hotels
  • Scott Blume, Chief Executive, Zuji
  • Oliver Bonke, Vice President – Marketing, Starwood Hotels and Resorts
  • Symon Bridle, hief Operating Officer, Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts
  • Maria Cary, GM Pricing and Distribution, Accor Asia-Pacific
  • Rick Clements, Managing Director, Rick Clements and Associates
  • Tony Davis, Chief Executive, Tiger Airways
  • Bernadette Dennis, Vice President Asia-Pacific, Marriott International
  • Olivier Dombey, Vice President Sales and Account Management - Asia Pacific
  • Sue Graham, Regional Manager – Hotel Business Asia Pacific, Travelocity
  • Peter Harbison, Managing Director, Centre for Asia-Pacific Aviation
  • Deep Kalra, Founder, Makemytrip.com
  • Ken Low, Assistant Chief Executive – Branding and Communications, Singapore Tourism Board
  • Grant McCarthy, Head of Search, Yahoo! South-East Asia
  • Ken Mandel, Chief Executive/Regional Director, XM Asia Pacific
  • Toby March, Vice President – Hotels & Cars, Abacus
  • Gerry Oh, Senior Vice President – Marketing, Millennium and Copthorne Hotels International
  • Timothy O’Neil-Dunne, Managing Partner, T2 Impact
  • Lucas Peng, Founder and Managing Director, MacroVision Network
  • Chananya Phataraprasit, Chairman, East West Siam
  • Mark Renshaw, Managing Director – Singapore, Arc
  • Mark Rizzuto, Managing Director – Asia, Cendant TDS
  • Karthik Siva, Founding Chairman of the Global Brand Forum; Group Strategy Director of Ogilvy & Mather, Singapore
  • Peter  Smith, Vice President – E-Commerce, Amadeus Asia-Pacific
  • Stuart Spiteri, Director Asia-Pacific, Akamai
  • Martin Symes, Executive Director – Commercial, Zuji
  • Aileen Tan, Vice President – Centres for Excellence, Abacus International
  • Jan Tissera, President – International, TravelCLICK
  • James Vaile, Chairman, Bezurk
  • Anthony Venus, Executive Director, MarketShare


Shoulda Been There - Back in 2019

You should have been there. The first sold-out edition of Travel IQ was a fantastic day.

Make sure you don't miss out in 2019 - register your interest here to get the latest updates.

Travel IQ is a one-day conference that celebrates the business of travel.

It's designed for entrepreneurs, key executives, business owners, directors, analysts, investors and managers across all verticals.

The aim is to get people thinking – and also inspired - with case studies from some of Australia’s most renowned travel entrepreneurs and innovators.

This unique format resonated with the attendees at the first event, which was staged at the Langham, Sydney, on October 24.

As one high-profile speaker commented: "I met with many great people and the overwhelming comment was how much they got out of Travel IQ.

"Personally, I also enjoyed the event very much.

"It is always great getting the heads of companies in the same room, inspiring. So well done!"

Another said: "Excellent first up business event - great base to build on."

Travel IQ 2018 featured an outstanding program packed with industry leaders including:

Anthea Hammon, Managing Director, Scenic World; Director, Hammons Holdings 

- Anthony Hayes, Chief Operating Officer, Sealink Travel Group (SLK)

- Anthony Moulder, Head of Transport & Infrastructure Research, CLSA Australia

- Bob East, Chairman Tourism Australia/ Chair Experience Co (EXP)

- Brett Mitchell, Regional Director APAC, Intrepid Group

- Darrin Grafton, Co-Founder, Serko (SKO)

David Hammon, CEO & Director Hammons Holdings, (Scenic World/Sydney Harbour Bridge Tourism Experience)

- Dax Eddy, Executive Director, Jamberoo Action Park

- Jamie Pherous, Managing Director, Corporate Travel Management (CTD)

- Jeff Lewis, Vice President Technology & Strategic Initiatives, TripAdvisor

- Josh Oakes, Director, The Sunshine Tribe

- Kathryn Valk, Director of Marketing, Royal Carribean Cruises Ltd

- Les Szekely, Managing Director, Grand Prix Capital, early investor in SiteMinder and Rezdy

- Nigel Benton, Publisher, Australian Leisure Media

Quirin Schwaighofer, co-Founder and COO, MadeComfy

- Rachel Wiseman, Chief Investment Officer, The NRMA

- Robert Halfpenny, Managing Director, Aurora Expeditions

- Rod Cuthbert, Founder Viator, Former Chairman Rome2rio

- Rob Smith, Divisional Director, Australia/New Zealand, Merlin Entertainments (LON: MERL)

- Sue Badyari, Chief Executive Officer, World Expeditions

- Simon Lenoir, Co-Founder, Rezdy

- Tammy Marshall, CEO, The B Hive

- Vasso Zographou/Michael Simpson, Savills Hotels

Travel IQ will be back in 2019, date and venue to be advised.

Travel IQ is produced by Martin Kelly, publisher of TravelTrends.biz and creator of several respected industry events.

More information on Travel IQ

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- It's All About The Information - 

TravelTrends founder Martin Kelly has diversified and now also runs Bluewater Press, a communications and thought leadership consultancy with a particular expertise in travel. Services include:

- Strategic Communications
- Media Releases & Distribution
- Crisis Management
- Thought Leadership
- Industry Advocacy
- Positioning, Messaging
- Marketing Plans & Execution
- Engaging Content

Martin is a communications, public relations and media professional with extensive high-level experience across the travel, internet, property and banking industries, both in-house and as a consultant.

For further information please email martin@traveltrends.biz