Internet travel is taking off in South Africa if the performance on a low-cost online travel agency is anything to go by.
Travelstart, launched just 18 months ago, is expected to more than double its sales this year and is already one of the top travel websites in South Africa, recording more than 70 000 hits a day from 13 000 visitors.
Set up by Swedish entrepreneur, Stephan Ekbergh, Travelstart aims to be one of South Africa’s top five travel industry players in the next couple of years.
“At the moment we are selling R3,5illion worth of tickets per week," says Ekbergh. "We have had days when we sell close to R1-million worth of travel in a day and we are aiming for sales of R1,2-million a day this year.
"At close on R100-million, sales in 2007 were better than expected. The business has grown much faster than I predicted and I’m satisfied that we are achieving what we have set out to do.”
Travelstart.co.za went live in South Africa on 1 August 2006. It finds and confirms the lowest fares for major airlines, low-cost carriers, hotels, car hire firms and other travel related businesses.
The company has grown exponentially and now has a web presence in 12 countries, including Scandinavia (Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland), the UK and Ireland, France, Germany, Lithuania, South Africa and the US.
It is now pursuing emerging markets with a launch in Brazil scheduled for April 2008 and long-term plans for a launch in India. The staff complement in Cape Town has grown from four to 35, ranging from web developers to online travel consultants chatting live to customers from around the world.
Management teams have been appointed in Sweden and in South Africa to take care of Travelstart’s daily operations.
“After Travelstart’s initial success in Sweden we could have sold out but decided to take the long-term approach and go global. South Africa was the first re-launch outside of Sweden and it has been a big learning curve,” says Ekbergh.