Zuji.com delays launch
Asian travel portal Zuji.com is delaying its launch until the middle of next year, citing the economic slump and declining numbers of travellers.
The company had targeted a preview launch in the fourth quarter of this year to selected registered members of its site.
Pascal Bordat, chief executive of the Singapore-based portal, said the events of September 11 had led to a decline in air travel. He rejected suggestions that the company was stalling for time because its Web product and services were still not ready.
'The market conditions at the moment are not right. However, our partner airlines expect air travel to bounce back in the third quarter of next year,' he said.
'Of course, the more time we have, the more time we'll have in improving the product.'
Zuji.com is a joint venture between several airlines and Travelocity.com, a United States-based travel Web site.
The airline backers are Cathay Pacific, China Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Air New Zealand, Ansett, EVA Air, Garuda Indonesia, Malaysia Airline System, Qantas, Royal Brunei Airlines and SilkAir.
The site, primarily aimed at leisure travellers looking for bargains, hopes to catch Asia's still-emerging online travel market.
Mr Bordat said the company was using the time between now and the preview launch to 'improve the product to a better stage'.
The preview launch, targeted for March next year, will only be available from Singapore and Australia.
'We are also trying to adapt the product, which is the Travelocity product for the US, for Asia,' he said.
Another travel portal, Hutchison-Priceline, is also expected to delay its launch until next year. It will be the third time this year the Hutchison Whampoa-backed travel portal has postponed its launch.
A source close to Hutchison-Priceline said getting the portal and services right when it launched was crucial. Otherwise, customers would be upset and not come back.
'It is not merely a question of having a ready product. It is about having a product that is so perfect that consumers will like it at once and use it again. That takes an incredible amount of work,' the source said.
Mr Bordat said Zuji.com and its partner airlines were confident the online travel services model was viable.
'Sure, the model itself is a good model. If you look at where travel is involved in consumer e-commerce, it is doing far better than any other e-commerce sector. When air travel picks up again, we believe that online agencies will be the first to gain once the buying wave gets back,' he said.
Travel is the biggest single category of online purchases by US consumers, accounting for US$4 billion in sales in 1999 and forecast to grow to US$29 billion in 2003. The online travel services opportunities in Asia are projected to grow as quickly in the next three years.
When Zuji.com launches next year, Mr Bordat said: 'You will get functionality on the site, which you don't find on travel sites in Asia. We will have a feature that lets you see fares going up or down or just if it passes a certain threshold.
'Another feature is the site will automatically send you an e-mail when the fare goes below X number of dollars. We will launch with more features than we first planned.'
In the US, several travel sites including Biztravel.com have shut down because of the decline in air travel as a result of the terrorist attacks in New York.
Leading travel sites such as Expedia.com, Travelocity and Priceline.com have reported a depressed market despite the peak Christmas holiday season.
In Hong Kong, travel portal Ebookit.com closed down earlier this year due to a lack of revenues to fund the operation.