Online surge nets Wotif profit

Brisbane-based holiday booking business the Wotif Group is looking forward to a bright future as it prepares to capitalise on an inevitable growth in online accommodation bookings.

Internet travel bookings still only accounted for 13 per cent of total accommodation sales in Australia in 2008 compared with 29 per cent in the United States but Wotif managing director and chief executive officer Robbie Cooke has forecast that number to rise.

There's still a lot of people that aren't aware they can book online.

"I think the future is very rosy," he told as shareholders gathered for the business's annual general meeting yesterday.

"There's still a lot of people that aren't aware they can book online."

Bargain-hunting holiday makers and business clients booked nearly $1 billion worth of accommodation through Wotif last financial year, pushing up the total value of its transactions by 33 per cent despite the global downturn.

The group, which boasted that its business model was not "just one for the good times", reported a 26 per cent surge in net profit after tax to $43.5 million in the 2008-09 financial year.

Mr Cooke said the company weathered the global financial downturn because travellers turned to its services looking for shorter breaks, domestic travel and special deals.

He said more than 16,000 hotels and properties now offered deals through the group's flagship booking service - up about 35 per cent on the previous year.

The group also runs along with the recently acquired Asia Web Direct and

Yesterday's AGM proved to be a largely civil affair, until the company's newly re-elected chairman, Dick McIlwain, accused the Australian Shareholders' Association of taking a "Nazi-like approach" to board management.

The dressing down came after the association's representative questioned whether Mr McIlwain was capable of juggling his roles with the Wotif, Tatts and Super Cheap Auto groups.

Mr McIlwain fired back, saying if the association had done its research it would know he was about to step down from his chairmanship of Super Cheap Auto.

"I think the ASA needs to take a look at its rules and the Nazi-like approach they take," he said.

"I think Wotif is better served by people who are engaged and connected."

Shareholders, who were paid dividends of 17.5 cents last financial year, yesterday backed remuneration packages proposed by the board.

The group reported total revenue of $121.3 million during the financial year, up from $94 million the year before.

It forecasts its net profit after tax will be about $26 million for the first half of this financial year, up from $20.6 million over the same period last year.