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   When your destination is a click away

By Khoo Hsu Chuang
October 1, 1999

Internet-enabled travel reservations are set to take off in Malaysia.

At least three companies have hit the ground running in an aggressive push to market this new mode of booking a holiday. Among the three, Asia Travel Network (ATN) appears the most sophisticated and is ahead of the pack on several counts.

The startup has already secured financing from a Silicon Valley fund, and is taking orders and advertising regionally about its Web site.

ATN founder Alex Kong's Web voyage began when his earlier business of running backpackers to the Mulu caves in Sarawak was hit by a triple whammy. "The coxsackie virus, haze and the economic downturn caused me to lose my business. I had to fight back," he says.

Fight back he did. He sold his house, cars and companies to raise some startup capital, took his idea, and transformed and tweaked it into something he thought investors might like.

When in June 1998 he raised a small but significant RM700,000 (about US$184,000) from a Silicon Valley-based venture capital company AsiaTech Ventures, he was in business.

ATN is positioned as an "Internet exchange for buyers and sellers of travel products", according to Kong, although in reality it is little more than bulk-bought goods embellished by content related to the destination.

There's nothing wrong with that: users log on, fill out a simple form, and whammo! They are instantly privy to the site's discount offerings of cut-rate hotel rooms, car rentals and cruises.

Kong says ATN is in direct control of product supply via links he established in his days as a travel agent and hotel operator. This allows him to collective bargain for people who might want to go to a holiday destination at a certain date in the future, and the Web business might conceivably extend to hotels, airlines, bus operators and car rental agencies.

More importantly, that also means being able to bypass intermediaries like travel agents who add layers to the booking process-as well as headaches and friction--to the holiday or business traveler.

But it's a tough market. Cash-rich Microsoft is already in the arena with its Expedia Web site, as are sites such as Travelocity, Priceline, Biztravel and Travelscape, which means the industry is looking increasingly entrenched at the moment.

That also means having to raise the cash, marketing muscle and programming expertise to compete.


Khoo Hsu Chuang has covered the technology industry the last three years and is now in an Internet startup building a virtual community for the auto industry. Email us your comments.


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