Canberra businesses interested in learning about international expansion could do far worse than take advice from the founder and managing director of Privileges Card Pty Ltd, Robert Leticq.
Since starting the Privileges Card business in Canberra in 1991 (which he says makes it the longest surviving product of its kind), Robert has successfully taken the concept to Thailand and expanded it to include a wider range of B2B and B2C rewards program offerings.
“I sold the Canberra arm of the Privileges Card operation to ActewAGL in 2007 so I could work on expanding into Asia, where I saw a lot more business potential,” he says.
It was a hunch that proved to be correct. Robert now has a thriving Privileges Card program in both Phuket and Koh Samui, where his clients include Qantas Holidays and other leading names in the travel industry. In the past few years, he has also successfully launched TasteVouchers.com (a business to business program that helps companies reward their valued customers by giving them dining deals at local restaurants and cafés), and last year he founded Global Village Deals (a competitor to discount sites such as LivingSocial and Groupon) both in Australia and in Thailand.
It is perhaps no surprise then that he counts expanding into Asia as one of his most successful business decisions. He splits his time between Australia and Thailand, and on top of continually expanding his rewards programs, he is also involved in building a five-star, 166-room, resort in Phuket – set in a rainforest on a mountainside, no less.
“In retrospect, going into Asia was a very smart idea because of the way Asian economies are expanding. The population drives business in Asia. In Canberra you need to work smartly to get a successful business up and running. In Asia, you can do it relatively easily because you have the numbers,” he says.
That said, he always enjoys coming home to Canberra.
“Travelling between Canberra and Thailand is the best of both worlds. Some people think that they need to move permanently for a sea change, but then they start to miss things from home that can’t be easily replicated in their new location.”
Commenting on Canberra’s recent focus on marketing itself as a destination for international visitors, Robert says it’s only a matter of time before the Asian market discovers Canberra.
“My recommendation to Canberra tourism bodies is to keep doing what they’re doing, but to think of interesting initiatives that can add value. I’m always happy to work with them where I can, using some of the structures that I’ve developed in Asia.”
He also suggests that Canberra could market itself to visitors as “the biggest theme park in the world”.
“We need to come up with a message that shocks people into thinking differently about Canberra. In a way, we have a political theme, a diplomatic theme, a gastronomic theme and even an adventure theme, and so I think we could describe ourselves as a theme park. The idea of marketing Canberra as a theme park, as distinct from a traditional city, means that people would come to Canberra with a different perspective.
“If people were conditioned to see Canberra as an interesting place to visit and see it in a new, fresh way, that would permeate across Australia and even overseas.”
Robert sees direct flights from Canberra to Asia as the “single greatest initiative” to get the Asian market interested in Canberra, and hopes the city can secure a deal with an Asian airline in the next year or two.
“If Asian visitors came directly to Canberra, we could build a whole program around immersing them in Australian culture before they even get to the bigger cities.
Robert is generously offering RiotACT readers a Free Taste Voucher, with savings of $50 at a range of restaurants, including Madame Woo, Saffron, Thai Chiang Rai and Chalisa Indian Restaurant. To claim your Taste Voucher, please visit www.tastevouchers.com/robertleticq. This offer is valid for the first 200 readers only.