Webjet casts travel .NET wider

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Melbourne online travel reseller Webjet has launched a $3.6 million .NET-based services platform which allows consumers and businesspeople alike to buy a total holiday package in one transaction.

Melbourne online travel reseller Webjet has launched a $3.6 million .NET-based services platform which allows consumers and businesspeople alike to buy a total holiday package in one transaction.

David Clarke, MD at ASX-listed online travel services reseller Webjet, said the platform had gone live Thursday, 15 January, after more than a year of planning and development.

Unlike many online travel services-based websites, the Travel Services Aggregator (TSA) platform allowed users to research, compare, book and pay for plane fares, hotel rooms, hire cars in one transaction, using one or several credit cards. 'The first difference is ... you will find that in international airfares that there's no [confusion] between fares that may or may not be available. You don't need to trawl through tonnes of incomprehensible fares on different websites and try to work out which one is best,' Clarke said.

The platform aggregates data from Qantas.com, global travel bookings giant Galileo International, car rental firm Avis, new Qantas subsidiary JetStar, US-based hotel database integrator WorldRes and Virgin Blue, with other deals and companies to be added in time.

Webjet partnered Microsoft in the project, which used that vendor's Visual Studio.NET 2003, SQL Server and Windows Server 2003 to come in on time and under budget, Clarke said.

He said that the website had not suffered the expected drop in its 5,000-7,500 daily unique visitors. A drop often goes with adopting a different look and feel, he said, but Webjet had worked hard to retain the look customers were used to.

'It's extremely unwise to change the look and feel of a website other than in an evolutionary manner, and over the last six months we were modifying the appearance of the old site,' Clarke said.

He said word-of-mouth was expected to be a major driver of customers to the site. However, Webjet had already embarked on a television advertising campaign, focusing on the service itself rather than any particular fares that might be available.

'Travel is personal, even if it's business travel ... The important thing is that people talk to people,' Clarke said. 'Now that a lot of [travel] suppliers like Accor and Virgin Blue are abandoning traditional airline distribution, there needs to be a re-integration in place, and that's what we are trying to provide.'

Clarke said Webjet had just introduced a $3.30 transaction fee, but expected little customer resistance. Consumers and businesspeople alike were prepared to pay small fees to save time and money, he said.

'It's not really about price,' he said. 'And we're not really expecting an increase in unique visitors -- but in the 'look-to-book ratio.'

The company would also have billboards advertising the service in Sydney and Melbourne airports, he said.

Webjet had raised $1.8 million of the $3.6 million total via financial firm Intersuisse Corporate and another $1.8 million was contributed by Galileo International via a share issue, he said. Webjet thus got access to Galileo's technology and its parent company, the US$14 billion Cendant Group, which also owns Avis, Budget, Ramada Hotels, Trip.com. Century21, Travelodge and Cheaptickets.com.

About 47,000 travel agency sites book one-third of all automated travel reservations worldwide through Galileo systems, which distributes products for 501 airlines, 30 car rental companies, 51,000 hotel properties and 400 tour operators.

Using Galileo enabled Webjet to harness extracted encapsulated XML, which bundles envelopes of intelligently-organised queries, instead of sending separate queries back and forth over the internet.

A user can get multiple queries answered on one screen of information, prioritised by location, accommodation, price, destination, airline, or other ticketing considerations, then complete the entire transaction in realtime without leaving the Webjet site.

In its preliminary report for the full year ending 30 June 2003, Webjet said it had lost $1,684,162 -- up from a $1,587,000 loss in the 2001-02 financial year. However, the company lost $2,234,830 in the two-year ago period.

The company had previously claimed it expected to be profitable by 2005.

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