Datalex in interactive TV travel venture

6 Mar 2003

Dublin-based travel software group Datalex has joined forces with Cork-based iTV [interactive TV] solutions specialists to provide a service which will allow viewers to book their holidays using their TV remote control.

Peter O’Kelly, commercial manager with Datalex that the service would be targeted primarily at established iTV markets such as the US, the UK and Germany, where digital interactive services are already established. He said that the new product does not aim specifically to create a new market but to service an existing one.

The interface developed between Digisoft’s DigiTravel application and Datalex’s host integration platform enables TV viewers to book their flights, cars, hotels and holiday from the comfort of their own living room using a remote control.

The service works by using a selection of interactive buttons on a TV screen and allowing viewers/customers to choose from a list of travel services they wish to book.

Payments are made by inserting credit card details via the remote control or by directly inserting a smart card (which will replace existing credit cards) into the second card reader in the set-top box.

Damien Hickey, senior vice-president of business development at Datalex: said: “In recent years the familiar box in the corner of the room has become a convenient medium for instant messaging and online shopping.”

He added: “At the centre of the family environment, the TV also provides the perfect vehicle for planning and booking holidays. This successful initiative with Digisoft will enable us to explore new business opportunities with airlines, tour operators and other travel suppliers looking to open up new channels for selling their products.”

Analysts Strategy Analytics is predicting that Ireland’s digital TV penetration will reach 45pc by the end of 2005. According to a survey by Gallup in 2001, travel is the most popular e-commerce application, with 48pc of survey respondents saying they would be most interested in using iTV to purchase holiday and travel-related products.

However, O’Kelly told that Ireland currently has very low usage of interactive TV applications, apart from the likes of the Sky TV remote control voting service which offers a “number for Irish viewers” option. He said that the whole iTV service was still in its infancy.

But, he added that Datalex believes that, because there are far more TV sets than there is internet penetration worldwide, there is a huge market to grow online travel in the home. By using a simple interface the process of shopping and booking would be much simplified, he said.

“We wouldn’t be selling a travel service in Ireland. We’d be dealing with major airline travellers,” he added.

“We’d be hopeful that we’d have a couple of US- and UK-based clients by the end of this year. Given that they are already using our internet technology it wouldn’t be a major leap forward.”

“There are a number of parties involved in the chain – broadcasters, tech providers and travel companies themselves – so a triangular business arrangement would be required to be established and we’re working with Digisoft to make that commercial arrangement easy for all parties,” O’Kelly continued.

He said that the company felt the iTV service would feed into its existing online business adding that he hoped that a number of its customers would come along with them on this new venture.

“We’re also dealing with a lot of major carriers, such as Aer Lingus, KLM, Singapore Airlines and Saudi Arabian Airlines and we’re hoping that these customers will see the benefit of interactive TV.”

Datalex, which employs around 200 people worldwide, has had a rocky time of it over the past few years having to lay off staff during the height of the dotcom crash.

However things have been looking up in recent months with the striking of a number of significant deals with, among others, Saudi Arabian Airlines and

Results for the year ended 31 December 2002, showed an operating loss before EBITDA [earnings before interest, taxation, depreciation and amortisation] reduced from US$29m to US$11.2m.

Revenue for that year was US$25.685m. The previous year Datalex’s revenue was US$29.33m.

By Suzanne Byrne