You’ve Got a Ticket to Ride

By Using the Web, travellers can set their sights on great bargains and instant information.
Online travel is really taking off. Whether it’s booking flights, cruises, Hotels, expeditions, safaris or more, the industry is booming - and thousands of firms and millions of people are trying to take advantage of it.


It’s because the world wide travel market is huge. Travel sales are expected to more than double in the next five years. In fact, according to the World Trade Organization, travellers will spend an incredible $7.4 trillion US by 2005.

Internet travel is said to already be the largest online commerce category with sales expected to hit $30 billion US in 2003. That’s why firms such as Uniglobe.com have rushed to the Web in such numbers.


“In our first full year of operations, we did a million dollars in ‘gross bookings,”’ says Martin Charlwood, president and CEO of Uniglobe.com, a publicly held subsidiary of Vancouver-based Uniglobe Travel International.


“In our second year of operations, we did $10 million in gross bookings. And we expect that we’ll be doing at least six-to-700-per cent increase in the year 1999.”
These sorts of results haven’t gone unnoticed by the dot.com crowd. There has been a fantastic rush to the Net by firms hoping to sell travel packages.

ADVERTISEMENT

Carlson Wagonlit, Mircosoft’s Expedia.com, Travelocity.com, Canada.com, Trip.com - and dozens of other firms - offer online travel services of one form or another.


A huge advantage for Uniglobe.com is the fact that it’s a ‘click and mortar’ company. Nearly 1,200 Canadian and U.S. franchises act as a real-world place for people who shop online to go for customer service. And what’s more, Uniglobe, which did $2.5 billion in travel bookings last year, is reaping the benefits of an aggressive 20-year marketing campaign.


“Uniglobe.com shares in the recognition of a brand name called Uniglobe, which has had more than $100 million dollars invested in it since we started the franchise division in 1980,” Charlwood says.


Another Vancouver-area company that’s making a big splash in the online travel industry is Travelbyus.com. The fledgling online travel service, based in White Rock, launched its Web site at the end of January.


CEO Bill Kerby and his staff have struck nearly a dozen key deals in recent months in an all out effort to position Travelbyus.com as a key player on the Internet. His business model is a combination of the Internet, telephone support and, through a dizzying amount of recent acquisitions, providing customer support from existing ‘brick and mortar’ travel companies. “We’re mixing the traditional with the dot.com world,” Kerby says. “We have travel experts that are at the root everything we’re doing as we go forward.”


Although the site is up and Kerby is not planning a full-scale until the beginning of April, he says business is already coming in. “Our experience has been a very pleasant surprise considering we’re never advertised the site,” Kerby says. “We have been getting well over 100,000 page hits everyday and we have online bookings taking place everyday.”


Because the Internet is so cluttered, brand recognition is a key factor for success. While Kerby is just starting to push his venture into the public consciousness, Uniglobe.com’s parent company has been advertising of years.
“There’s a big difference between brand name recognition and brand quality,” Charlwood says. “Any dotcom company that raises $50 million on an IPO and buys a Superbowl ad this year will get brand recognition.”


“The question is how long do the customers remember the brand? Uniglobe has spent a hundred-million bucks on brand advertising since inception, so we’ve got brand equity.”


Meanwhile, it seems that demand keeps on growing. Web surfers, it turns out, are world travellers. A Travel Industry Association of America survey recently found 93 per cent of the online population took at least one trip last year.

And in the last four years, the number of people who used the Internet for travel planning has grown by a staggering 1,500 per cent. “In the first couple of years, people were a little uncomfortable transacting in this medium,” Charlwood says. “But now there have been so many good new stories about how easy it is or how much time is saved, that the stories of positive use are starting to spread.”


——-