Selling Travel In The Virtual World



TTG Asia, Kuala Lumpur 

The Virtual Travel Fair (VTF) set a precedent in Malaysia and the travel industry when it debuted last year. Having a successful third edition from March 15-21, 2012, the online consumer show is targeting to reach even more buyers and suppliers for future installments. 

The brainchild of Creative Advances Technology Malaysia (CAT), VTF rides on the platform provided by Standard Online Tourism Architecture (SOTA), an online portal with more than 1,500 travel experts and hotel members across 46 countries. SOTA is a business unit of CAT. During the duration of the VTF, consumers are directed online through media advertisements, among other means.

A digital show offers many advantages over a physical version, said Rohizam Md Yusoff, CAT's CEO. Without the need for many overheads, participating in the VTF is more cost-effective. Without any floor space limitation, there is also no cap on the number of participants. Furthermore, due to the absence of geographical restrictions, the recent VTF saw buyers from across Malaysia, Singapore and event he US.

Rohizam said: "Only a short time is required to initiate or launch an online fair as there is no physical venue to book and no booths to set up.

"The virtual booth is open 24/7 for as many days as we decide it should run. There is no requirement for (travel consultants) or hotels to deploy staff to physically man the booths or incur travel, accommodation and meal expenses."

Kuala Lumpur-based Aspen Holidays, which is listed on SOTA, had positive feedback about all three VTF's. Tour manager Ivy Kok said: "We will continue to participate in the VTF as we are pleased with the sales and cost savings we incur compared to a physical fair.

"We find we can handle enquiries better, especially from consumers who follow up on the information that they see online and contact us for details. The market is moving online."

Rohizam pointed out that consumers also benefited from the "flexibility of researching, planning and purchasing travel anytime at their convenience and from any location"

CAT will be organising more virtual fairs in the future, targeting not only a growth in numbers, but also how to make the VTF different and unique every time. For this year's fair, the company introduced an e-auction.

Said Rohizam: " When we first ran the fair, we had many (travel experts) and hotels who participated just to try out the concepts. As we have proven that the VTF attracts genuine buyers – real travelers who come to the fairwith the intention to purchase, we have bcome more selective with the participants."

He revealed that although there was less supplies particpating in the recent VTF, visitor turnout was "significantly higher" because of the sweeter deals on offer.

Since the inception of the VTF, similar shows have also sprung up, according to Rohizam. "Our aim is to make the VTF and event that both consumers and industry participants look forward to."

However, he conceded that the mode of payment remaind an obstacle.

Rohizam said: "Malaysia is a new but rapidly growing market for online payment. Online bank and credit card charges are a challenge as the profit margins for travel are much lesser than retail products.

"The consumer trust factor is another challenge – whether the uer is willing to part with this credit card details online when making a purchase." – N.Nithiyananthan.

May 5, 2012