Internet travel services operator Hutchison-Priceline is leasing its patented reverse-auction technology to new corporate customers such as Hewlett-Packard for promotional activities. Under a joint e-mail marketing effort, Priceline customers can bid for discounted HP laptops, PCs and PDAs using the firm's name-your-own-price model. An HP iPaq Pocket PC h1940 sporting a 266-megahertz processor, Bluetooth and Microsoft Windows Mobile 2003 was recently sold for $1,900, compared with a market price of $2,780. Alfredo Gangotena, chief executive of Hutchison-Priceline, said this was an example of how the company's name-your-own-price model could be used creatively outside the internet travel sector. He would not say how much the company expected to earn from this new business. 'What HP gained from that experience was learning the prices that customers are willing to pay for their products, as well as which products are in demand,' Mr Gangotena said. Mr Gangotena said Hong Kong and Singapore were catching on to the reverse-auction model. About 75 per cent of Priceline's customers buy their air tickets and hotel rooms through the bidding process, while the remaining 25 per cent use the retail model which was introduced in January. The reverse-auction model was initially met with scepticism as users were required to submit their credit card details to secure a bid, and it was only at that point that they found out which airline they were flying on. Priceline's competitors say the process is too complicated and not transparent enough. However, Mr Gangotena said these perceived weaknesses were actually Priceline's greatest strengths, as Asian travellers were more price-sensitive than their European and American counterparts and many did not care which airline they flew on. Meanwhile, the company introduced a new feature on its Hong Kong and Singapore travel websites last week which allows internet users to buy discounted luxury cruises within Asia using the reverse-auction model. Singapore-based cruise operator Star Cruises is offering a three-night return trip from Hong Kong to Sanya and Halong Bay in Vietnam and a two-night trip from Hong Kong to Haikou. However, Nielsen NetRatings Hong Kong director Peter Steyn said neither Priceline nor fellow online travel site Zuji were doing enough to attract internet users to their websites. 'Zuji and Priceline have been really struggling to get to the top because everything is done online and they don't have a store where people can walk in and buy,' he said. 'They need to better reach out to a wider network of travel sites and travel-related information sites.' Mr Steyn also noted that they did not offer the sort of brochures offered by traditional travel firms. 'Zuji and Priceline just do not have that array of products that the traditional travel agents have,' he said. According to Nielsen NetRatings, Priceline recorded 90,000 unique visitors in the second quarter, compared to less than 20,000 in the third quarter to end June. In comparison, Zuji was the sixth most-visited Hong Kong travel site in the third quarter with 80,000 unique visitors, not including traffic to its recently acquired Taiwan travel site, Buylow. The figures do not take into account traffic to Zuji and Priceline from the Yahoo portal. These figures were disputed by Priceline regional marketing director Ray Li. 'It's very strange. We also do our own tracking and traffic increased since June after the Sars outbreak. I think it's a trend across the entire travel industry and was not only experienced by us. Our records show about 10,000 to 15,000 visits a day, compared to 6,000 to 7,000 visits a day during the Sars period.' Mr Li pointed out that Nielsen's figures reflected only hits from at-home users and did not take into account visits from the Yahoo! portal. Nielsen NetRatings says traditional travel agents' websites are the most popular. Chinatravelone.com was the No?1 travel site during the third quarter, with 106,000 unique visitors. Wing On Travel's site was the second most popular, followed by the Cathay Pacific and Hong Tai Travel sites.