Remember the last time you stumbled on a clean, comfortable family-run guesthouse in a far-flung corner of the globe? The kind of place where the owner serves you tea, calls the train station for you and pins up smiling snapshots of visitors? Now try booking a room there online. Chances are that mega travel aggregators like Travelocity or Expedia won't have that place listed. But Worldhotel-link.com a travel provider based in Hong Kong, just might. If so, you have Len Cordiner, its Australian-born CEO, to thank.
Cordiner's brainstorm began in 2002 as a pilot project in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam for the International Finance Corp. (IFC), an arm of the World Bank that provides advice and backing for start-ups. The idea, says Cordiner, 57, was to simplify life for both hoteliers, who need business, and travelers, who want a reliable way to book ahead. A Worldhotel-link.com franchise partner in each destination city provides English-language content for the site and makes sure mouse clicks to the booking engine translate into rock-solid reservations. In some cases, that means a dash down the street to confirm a booking at a phoneless guesthouse. "We call it our digital-to-bicycle interface," says Cordiner.
When the project began to snowball, Cordiner and his team of techies opted last year for a $700,000 management buyout, a first for an IFC assistance program. Today Worldhotel-link.com offers nearly 70 destinations from Mongolia to Madagascar, and has begun adding tours and other services and even listing some big hotels. Travelers are invited to grade their room and even grade the owners for their social and environmental practices. "They're often doing neat things in sustainable tourism without realizing this is a marketable product," says Cordiner. He, naturally, would love to market it--to you.