Ihug travel subsidiary to offer online auctions

Auckland-based Travel Online is soon to become the first travel site in New Zealand to let its customers bid over the Internet for last-minute travel deals

Kiwis can get their pre-travel adrenalin pumping as they bid against each other for last-minute deals on the Travel Online travel auction site from next month.

Travel Online, a subsidiary of Ihug, will offer late deals on local travel products and destinations to those keen to bid for a bargain. The auction is the first regular travel auction site in New Zealand.

Director Michael Teyoung says: "Xtra toyed with [the idea] on their travel site, but nobody is doing it on a regular basis. We want to set it up as a permanent part of Travel Online — the idea is for putting things like last-minute deals online for bidding. We get it off the ground in November."

Managing director Julie-Ann Bell says setting up the auction has been a challenge as the industry "is not quite ready for this kind of thing" and responses to the concept varied. Despite this Bell and Teyoung — who have a background in tourism — believe there is a market here for this service and so began developing it a month ago. They are now finalising the software to perform the task.

"The market is after this sort of thing — particularly in New Zealand where the people are ferocious traders and 'do-it-yourselfers'," says Teyoung.

"We are starting off simple and will only present products and destinations in New Zealand — as they are easy to get to. In the long-term it's not going to be a big money-spinner, but it will give the market something it's looking for and strengthens our relationship with our suppliers."

To encourage people to bid no fee will be charged.

The Travel Online site also features videos and, claims Bell, is the only travel site in New Zealand with this facility.

"We want people to stay on our site for as long as possible and we have to provide the right support information to achieve this. It's been hard work but worth it," says Teyoung.

Another recent development is an online duty-free shop. Clients choose their goods on the site and can pick them up from the airport at their leisure.

A major project which started seven months ago — and is still being developed — is the Wired World network. This uses an advanced encrypted code designed to protect personal, business and financial deals. "Wired World is an online booking system and the market we're after is the sort of traveller that travels frequently enough to be able to do their own bookings — generally the business traveller," says Teyoung.

With a strong Kiwi focus on products and key destinations, the development of the site has been a hands-on project for both Bell and Teyoung. Bell handles the product side of the business while Teyoung looks after the technology aspect.

"We chose not to be a portal site whereby you have lots of external links and try to offer everything. We'd like to have a niche market and do it really well. Every page has been designed by us and we have over 1000. The work is paying off as a lot of sites mainly sell airfares only, but we sell packages which gives customers the opportunity to choose," says Bell.

"We have developed our system to enable customers to do everything — booking, car rentals etc — online. Many other companies have opted to buy standard software pro-ducts. We felt [the products] weren't user-friendly enough in relation to the rest of our site and we could do a lot more if we deve-loped our own. We have also started up a New Zealand product for domestic travel," she says.

The partners' hard work is "paying off" and Teyoung says their "hit rates are increasing. Last month successful hits for the entire site were 439,485 and the average user session length was 9.56 minutes, which is very high by any world standards."

The pair say they launched an advertising campaign two weeks ago as the business has grown significantly, since they began building the site in April 1998.

Since then there has been a change in attitude toward the concept of an online travel agency, they say. Travel Online now has a mailing list of 1900 and monthly turnover now in excess of $200,000.

"The Internet has re-defined all business models and its wiped the slate clean for a lot of businesses to say: 'Here's the chance to do things in a different way and to make money'," says Teyoung.

The site is at www.travelonline.co.nz.

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