By Martin Kelly, Editor, Travel Trends

Sales growth at has almost halved for the core brand over the past 12 months, CEO and Managing Director Robbie Cooke has revealed. Cooke said year-on-year room night sales for the three months to September 30 were up 12%. A year ago they were running at 21%, while 54% was the figure for the same period in 2006.

But add the results from Asia Web Direct and – companies bought by Wotif during the last financial year – and room night sales for the Group are up by 34%. These two sets of figures surely point to Wotif’s future – it must continue buying other companies to continue growing at anywhere near its early rates.

Chairman Dick McIlwain said his company, which sold almost five million room nights in 07/08, would pursue further acquisitions and also anticipated more competition in the online travel space.

“The board recognises there will be further consolidation within the internet travel booking market as others try to mimic the success of,” he said. “Their progress will be limited by their ability to grow the market and secure the user interest needed for suppliers to provide them with something to sell.”

It sounds like he’s talking about diversification and the emergence of new companies rather than the consolidation of existing players who would already have the relationships he talks about. He also assumes competitor growth will come from “growing the market” – surely aggressive players would also seek to steal share from existing businesses such as Wotif.

Certainly McIlwain has a big point about barriers to entry, although the major challenge for everyone will be to continue growing room night sales and maintaining present high room rates, which Cooke says are still up (2.6%) on last year. Travel October 23, 2008.

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