Big in Japan: E-commerce sites open doors abroad

Travelocity says it will join 11 major airlines to sell airline tickets to Japanese travelers, while a subsidiary of Office Depot says it has launched an office supplies site in Japan.

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Two American companies are the latest to announce e-commerce sites in Japan as a way to expand their reach into Asian markets.

Travel Web site Travelocity.com said today it will join 11 major airlines, including Japan Airlines, to sell airline tickets and offer hotel packages and rental cars online. Also, Viking Office Products, a wholly owned subsidiary of Office Depot, said it launched a Japanese office-supplies site that has been operational for about a week.

Both companies said the moves were tied to the growing market for Internet use and e-commerce in Japan. More than 20 million Japanese are logging onto the Internet, and that number is expected to double by 2003, according to Travelocity.

Delray Beach, Fla.-based Office Depot already operates Web sites in the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and the Netherlands.

"Customer response to our Web sites in Europe has been very positive, and we now look forward to a similar response to our new Japanese site," Office Depot chief executive Bruce Nelson said in a statement.

Travelocity chief executive Terrell B. Jones said in a statement, "We believe a joint venture approach...will benefit us all in driving global e-commerce."

Fort Worth, Texas-based Travelocity and Office Depot are not the first companies to expand their businesses in Asia. Priceline.com and eBay began plans to move into Asia at the end of last year. Around the same time, Internet investment firm CMGI partnered with Hong Kong-based Pacific Century CyberWorks to create online businesses targeting the Asian market.

Internet use in Asia is expected to reach about 12 percent of the population, or nearly 374 million people, by the end of 2005, according to consulting company The Yankee Group.

International Data Corp. forecasts that the Asia-Pacific region, excluding Japan, will have about 21.8 million people connected to the Net who will spend a total of $2.2 billion by year's end.