Reliance Banks On Brand
Anita Devasahayam , 1-Dec-2000

Branding does give companies entering the digital era a quantum leap as Malaysia-based travel, tourism and hospitality group Reliance Pacific Berhad (RPB) discovered. According to its executive director for e-commerce, Tan Sin Chong, having an established brand in Asia-Pacific has worked to their advantage.

“We have been around for 31 years and people won’t think twice about booking a holiday and making payments through our Web site,” he said, adding experience and knowledge accumulated over the years has given it a strong advantage.

The characteristics of the Reliance brand in the travel industry is synonymous to reliability, trust and best possible range of product to serve the traveller’s needs, he said.

The group did not rush to get online nor did it get caught up with the online fever that hit traditional brick-and-mortars in recent years. Instead, it sent feelers out four years ago and incubated World.Net Services (WNS), an Australian software house, apart from subsequently setting up a Web site--RelianceTravel.com--earlier this year.

RelianceTravel.com exploits the interconnected and collaborative nature of the Internet with the aim of building a critical mass by reaching out to new customers and markets. Apart from allowing customers to book online anytime, seven days a week, 24 hours a day, customers can conduct research in order to create an ideal holiday or travel plan through the Web site for free.

According to Tan, the Web site chalked gross sales of RM10.1million (US$2.65million) in the first six months of the fiscal year and in October, gross sales went up to US$2.9 million. “We hope to gross RM30 million (US$7.9 million) by year-end and hope to break even by then.” The site also hopes to rake in US$5.3 million in sales by March next year.

The online model adopted by Reliance combines both B2B and B2C transactions with call centres running 24 hours daily to facilitate customer queries. Tan added that picking up the phone to double-check a booking with a voice at the other end gave many Asian customers a huge sense of satisfaction. “The call centres offer a psychological function.”

Tan believes that a company’s ability to fulfil customers’ requests is the most critical factor in achieving success on the ‘Net. “We have established a fulfilment chain worldwide utilising the technology that we have put in place and we believe it will give us a strong competitive edge.”

He added that the B2B segment of the business hooked over 200 agents who contributed 60% to total earnings with the balance earned from the B2C segment.
By the end of this month, over 10,000 packages ranging from air fares, excursions, recreation, charters, car rentals, hotels to tours and scheduled transportation and other products related to travel, tourism and hospitality will be available on the Web site.

Last month, the company also launched a Web partnership programme with Internet companies such as Catcha.com, Skali.com, MalaysiaRinggit.com, Buzzcity.com, eGuide.com. Under this C-Partners programme, revenue earned for booking referrals is shared and partners would also benefit from a 5% commission from the sales initiated.

On the blueprint are plans to roll out localised portals with supporting call centres in Hong Kong, Taiwan by December; Australia, New Zealand and India by Q1’01 and the rest of Southeast Asia by Q2 of next year.

Tan said that it will expand to Europe and US after mid-2001 before moving into the Korean and Japanese markets. “Japan and Korea are last as setting up the local country interface will take a little longer than the rest,” he added.

He also pointed out that the call centres will be decentralised with one in each country as knowledge of the local environment is important in the travel and tourism trade.

Parallel to its Web initiatives, Reliance also set up an investment arm Xplonet Investment to incubate local and overseas startups. Through Xplonet, Reliance holds a 20% stake in WNS. While others are braving the storm, Reliance led WNS to a successful IPO opening at A$0.56 (US$0.30) and closing at A$0.65 (US$0.34), giving it a capital appreciation of RM7.5 million (US$1.98 million) from its initial investment.

WNS’ principal activity is in systems integration, consulting and software development. Its stable of products consists of Travel.World.Net, an integrated multi-user reservations and distribution system, for use by suppliers and buyers of travel and tourism product; Rosta2000, a labour management rostering system; and GOOSE, a suite of software development tools for e-business solutions.

Tan said that Reliance’s strategy is to continue to incubate companies that can add value its traditional business portfolio. Its relationship with WNS is a bonus as the need to develop applications in-house was eliminated.

“We are using the e-commerce engine and tools designed by WNS which is tailor made to our needs. More importantly, we are also able to push WNS’ product independently through other channels,” he pointed out.

An estimated RM30 million (US$7.9 million) had been set aside for this of which RM8 million (US$2.1 million) was spent with WNS.

“We are in talks with another party and hope to announce a tie up before the year end,” he added.