A virtual marketplace for travel

  • Travel pioneer rebrands its search engine
  • Its aim? To help consumers find better information about their holiday destination

A virtual marketplace for travelTHERE are travel packages and then there are travel packages. Rohizam Yusoff, the founder of MSC Malaysia Status company, Creative Advances Technology Sdn Bhd (CAT) knows this better than most, having been involved in the travel industry since at least 2002 when he launched his portal virtualmalaysia.com.
Today, virtualmalaysia.com has become the official tourism portal for Tourism Malaysia and Rohizam has just rebranded his e-commerce portal to Smart Online Travel Assistant (SOTA) as www.sota.travel.
It used to be called the decidedly awkward Standard Online Tourism Architecture but the rebranding has to do with Rohizam’s aim of targeting the individual traveller. He likens SOTA.travel to a virtual mall specialising in travel. The travel packages exclude airlines and ocean cruises.  
The rationale for SOTA.travel is simple.
He feels he is addressing a market pain point. “We did a lot of surveys last year to understand traveller behaviours online, especially during our virtual travel fairs of which we did three.”
Surprisingly, he says the findings show that customers still need a lot more information and handholding about their holiday destination. Thus the ultimate goal of the not just rebranded but improved version of SOTA is to get customers to Look, Buy, Pay and Go.
The rebranding is backed by a RM2 million marketing budget for A&P activities in which to drive home the point that SOTA is well capable of helping individual travellers with their plans (See the chart below for SOTA's first day impact of its A&P activites).
SOTA.travel currently is populated with packages from 1,400 travel agents. CAT will attract consumers to the portal where they can browse the various packages offered and then continue the relationship with the travel agents, either online of offline, until both sides are happily agreeable.
CAT does not take any commission from this approach. The business model is based on pay per inquiry at US$1 per inquiry.  
Focusing on their core expertise is the message Rohizam has been pushing to the travel industry. “It is a no-brainer for the industry to use SOTA. “They should just focus on coming up with the latest and most interesting travel packages. They do not want to be bothered by technology which changes so fast and is not their domain expertise.”

 A virtual marketplace for travel

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