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High-end tourism in the shape of a private yacht off Surin

Internet Entrepreneur Tips Bright Future for Phuket

Saturday, February 16, 2008
Contender for Phuketwan Business of the Year 2008

NEIL CUMMING, Internet guru, has no regrets about dropping anchor permanently in Phuket back in 1988.

He was sailing his yacht from Hong Kong to Europe, but he didn't quite make it.

''Never left,'' the 62-year-old one-time would-be global sailor told Phuketwan from Bangkok, where he was joining the bean-counters and lawyers to finalise the sale of Asia Web Direct, the company behind Phuket Dot Com.

Cumming's 20 years on the island have proven to be yet another wise decision by the canny Scot.

The company now has 93 employees on Phuket alone and about 60 more scattered across offices in Bangkok, Samui, Krabi and Kuala Lumpur.

Stuck on shore on a tropical island, Cumming has shown that the Internet allows good ideas to work virtually anywhere, providing a role model to all those computer tekkies in Hawaiian shirts in search of inspiration.

Mostly the tekkies arrive on Phuket by air rather than on yachts these days, so perhaps that's the difference.

When asked for advice, Cumming offered: ''Be lucky - and the harder you work, the luckier you get.''

While the exact amounts involved have not been disclosed, there is no hint of anything but smiles over the deal with Australian-based Wotif.com Holdings Ltd.

''It's Australia's biggest online booking site for hotels,'' Cumming told us.

''We have been talking to them for several years to leverage on each others product in our different markets.

''Eventually it was easier for one to buy the other. They were 10 times our size, so they bought us out of petty cash (joke).''

Cumming will join the main board in Australia and his family will be significant shareholders.

Asia Web Direct, founded in 1993, quickly became a pioneer for online hotel bookings with instant confirmation.

Today it is part of a network of more than 100 travel portals and destination websites attracting three million visitors a month and booking 450,000 hotel rooms in 2007.

Cumming was reluctant to talk about any other numbers. How did the deal come about?

''I told them (Wotif) about the wonderful domains we had, the smart people, the happy customers and the satisfied hotels,'' he said.

''They said 'Let's see the bottom line.'

''Then I told them about our great systems, effective search engine optimisation, ability to weather disasters like SARS and tsunamis.

''They said 'let's see the bottom line.'

''So value was related to profit.''

A statement released to the Australian Stock Exchange said that Asia Web Direct's business has shown ''consistent growth both in revenues and profits over the last five years.''

Its room inventory now comes from more than 4000 hotels in South East Asia.

As for the Dundee adventurer, Phuket will continue to be home.

''I live with my wife, Linda, in Chalong and have two grandchildren living with us, both attending British International School,'' he said.

Asked about the island's future, he said: ''Tourism will continue to thrive.

''As there's more money to be made from high-end tourists, market forces will dictate more high-end tourism.

''Property development will depend on regulations and how these are implemented in practice, but the potential is still huge.

''Recent trips to Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia show the potential for prices here to rise closer to these markets.

''If regulations permitted, prices would surpass these areas for the more desirable areas.

''Other businesses will catch up to supply and support these two driving forces.''

We couldn't resist asking one more final, final question.

Given the choice of going anywhere in the world, do you think there's another Phuket waiting for a new generation of adventurous entrepreneurs?

''Of course,'' Cumming replied.

''And it'll be easy to find. Just follow me.''

Look for more island business success stories regularly on Phuketwan

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