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Capturing those eyeballs
But, as befits any entrepreneur, Kong remains adamant about his chances. "ATN's transaction capabilities are in its third or fourth-generation level of sophistication," he says. "And our value manifesto is driven by the supply of travel products at wholesale prices to consumers."
Kong says ATN's added advantage is that it is an end-to-end solution that is second to none and has a feature that allows users to retract their paid orders if they wish to do so. He adds that the Web site is doing about 100 transactions a day, and "anytime now", will break the RM1 million (about US$263,000) barrier for monthly sales.
The Web entrepreneur is also reasonably confident about his chances against the U.S. Unlike North America, where many of the Net's players have been spawned, Asia is not a homogenous mass, and that is why companies like ATN and their country-specific expertise can make their mark.
With disparate customs and a notorious propensity for widely varying prices for the same travel products dispensed from different vendors, many American site owners might have their work cut out for them.
Portals, usually the first port of call for Web users, are the next target for ATN. "We'll expand with partnerships, says Kong. "Search engines and portals like Altavista and Xtremedia will use our engine to sell travel services on their sites."
Right now, ATN has about 30 partners and is looking for more. "They'll provide the reach and eyeballs, and we'll provide the technology and content," says Kong.
The issues surrounding the typical Asian Net startup seem to revolve around reliability and brand awareness.
For Marimari.com Inc which is led by founder and cherubic 29-year-old businessman Julius See, the issue of reliability is a priority. "We don't want to announce to the world our wares and then not deliver," he says. "Right now we are making sure our processes work before going on a marketing spree."
Whereas ATN claims technological superiority with its booking and claims facilitating engine, Marimari.com thinks its strength will be in marketing and customer service, as well as "an ability to grab direct control of suppliers", reckons See.
But it won't come cheap. Marimari.com has a team of regional partners, including offices in Hong Kong and Australia, which serves as a backup should hotels reject booking vouchers or flights get cancelled.
The company operates on staggering monthly overhead of about RM200,000 (about US$52,600), with about 40 staff.
Another Malaysian site, TravelAsiaNet, began as a travel publication but it is now trading on the back of its strengths in content publishing as a way of moving into value-added services.
Michael Loh, the publisher of TravelAsiaNet, claims 1.3 million page views to his site, even without an advertising budget. Of those who explore his products, roughly a quarter result in a sale.
"With a footprint of 57 countries, we are hoping to get a piece of the US$78 billion travel industry in Asia," says Loh. "With Web transactions estimated at a third of that sum, it is going to be a huge market to tackle."
TravelAsiaNet's unique selling point comes from its contents for the moment, but Loh hopes that his discussions with venture capitalists right now will allow him to build on the RM4 million (US$1.05 million) that he's already spent on the site.
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