Virgin's online train booking service is on target to generate profits of £100m by 2003, making it one of the highest earning internet companies in the UK.
The website - thetrainline.com - is a joint venture with transport group Stagecoach and is already selling more than £2.5m worth of train tickets every week, according to Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson. Annual sales are expected to grow to £1.3bn within three years.
The online venture claims to allow train operators to work more efficiently by using the advance sales methods of airlines. In return, it takes a nine per cent cut of all ticket transactions.
Earlier this week, Branson expanded his portfolio of internet investments by launching Virgin Energy, a portal offering discounted gas and electricity supplies. The company has been set up in conjunction with London Electricity, which will own a 25 per cent stake.
It hopes to attract 200,000 customers in its first year and is likely to be followed by a similar Virgin website offering discounted water and fixed-line telecom supplies.
Meanwhile, Branson is restructuring his group of internet companies with a view to creating a single holding company under the name virgin.com. But in order to do so he will first have to persuade investors in his individual web ventures, such as VirginWine and VirginCars, to take smaller stakes in a bigger company.
By combining all the ventures into a single portal, Branson will be able to focus marketing budgets while at the same time further raise the profile of the Virgin brand which, according to a Henley Centre survey just a few weeks ago, is already one of the UK's most trusted internet names, just behind the BBC.
A single portal should also allow Branson to streamline advertising costs, an area where the Virgin Trains website alone spent £6.7m last year.
First published on uk.internet.com
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