Interview with Dinesh Dhamija, chief executive, Ebookers

This week Internet Travel News speaks to Dinesh Dhamija
, the man who founded two high-profile travel agencies: Flightbookers, and then Ebookers, the country’s most successful internet travel agency. Dhamija came to Britain from India in 1968. His knowledge of the industry, has been the basis of e-bookers’ success.
Q. What has been the most positive aspect of 2003 for you?

The most positive is that we made all our numbers. Especially in the US context.

Q. Has there been any consumer backlash from the outsourcing of so many jobs to India.

Not really because when 9/11 happened we thought we’d go bust so we started India and we had about 560 people working in Europe for us. What’s happened is that we saved their jobs otherwise those 560 would have gone on to the dole.
Now we have 1150 working in Europe from 560 and 650 in India. So India saved us.

Q. Do you believe you have the scale necessary to remain an independent company in a consolidated industry?

We are number one in Europe and sure we have the scale. This year we’ll do well over $800 million worth of sales and next year our analysts think we’ll do over $1 billion worth of sales, so have enough scale, but that doesn’t preclude someone from making an offer for us, or us making an offer for other companies to grow bigger. There is no acquisition in the pipeline, but we would always consider it for our shareholders.

Q. It is suggested that travel is more vertically in Europe than in the US. Does ebookers need to become more vertically integrated?

As far as tour operations are concerned that’s a way of distributing. We have that through the internet and through call centres.  We just want to make a space where everyone else has the inventory and we are not vertically integrated.

Q. Who would you consider to be your main online competitor?



Q. How will you effectively compete against Expedia?

They have been in Europe for 7 years and we are bigger than them, still, so that’s pretty effective.

Q. Do you think there is room for another major opaque online player in Europe?

The opaque prices are not that much lower. I don’t think there is a market in Europe for an opaque online player - that’s one of the reasons why priceline failed when came to Europe.

Q. How will you differentiate yourselves from other players in the coming year?

We have three differentiating factors. Firstly we have long haul and mid-haul which is all 5 of our suppliers. Secondly we buy companies which are bricks and mortar and take them online, which others can’t do. Thirdly our costs are the lowest because we have India.

Q. Where do you plan to go for new revenue stream?

The switch from offline to online is around 40% so that is where the revenue stream is and everyone is going minus - this year people have had negative growth. We are growing positively.

Q. With the economy gaining traction, do you think the merchant model will dwindle in the next year?

Not really. The merchant model offers a unique selling point. Only 10 - 15 agents have a merchant model. I have been in this business for 20 years having been through 2 or 3 recessions and we always had one.