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    In Southeast Asia, E-marketplaces Grow

     

     
     
    © International Trade Centre, International Trade Forum - Issue 3/2003

    Small firms in Cambodia, Laos and Viet Nam are sharing online costs to widen visibility to foreign buyers and increase exports.

    For most SMEs, the prohibitive cost of getting online, creating web sites and promotional materials and maintaining individual back office procedures can be overwhelming.

    The Mekong Private Sector Development Facility (MPDF - managed by the International Finance Corporation) helps small firms by creating locally developed and managed e-marketplaces. They share costs of going online, building a web site, hosting, web marketing and a professional back office.

    Hotels improve service with e-presence

    Pilot projects targeted the tourism sector in Cambodia, Laos and Viet Nam. MPDF selected local hotel associations in Cambodia and Laos, for which adding an Internet dimension could boost exports. In Viet Nam, MPDF worked with a local tour company with offices across the country. Most participating firms, from guest houses to three-star hotels, are locally owned and are experiencing the Internet for the first time. The back office operators for the common web site answer customer inquiries, liaise with hotels in local languages and collect payments.

    The online "e-clusters" help build association memberships and revenue - from member dues and commissions - which is fed back to improve the quality of the service provided to online customers.

    Applying the model to other sectors

    Using PEOPLink's CatGen software, MPDF is contributing to building e-trade capacities among small exporters in the region.

    E-marketplace templates
    Working through national contractors, MPDF builds industry portal templates using CatGen online catalogue-generating software, which handle bookings, order management, web marketing and tracking, account management and, ultimately, online payment.

    Back office support

    With different languages, national economic systems and ways of doing business in the region, it's especially important to strengthen the role of these clusters as the project's "backbone". For each group of firms working together online, there is one behind-the-scenes team using technology to ensure functions of headquarters, sales, accounting and customer relations. MPDF is compiling manuals on back office procedures and setting up systems to track booking-order enquiries (i.e., checking response times, language usage) in order to provide online coaching by industry specialists to the region's back office operators. It is also developing competency assessment systems that allow a 'sign-off' when the offices reach target service standards.

    Towards B2B

    The Mekong Basin region is likely to evolve from business-to-consumer (B2C) to business-to-business (B2B) trade. Merchandise trade sites are already shifting from "informational" to "transactional" - for example, applications that handle information requests and sample dispatches through to export packaging and documentation are becoming more pervasive. MPDF is building on its experience to develop pilot B2B e-marketplaces with the ceramics sector in Bat Trang, Viet Nam and the handicraft sector in Laos.


    Len Cordiner (lcordiner2000@yahoo.com) is Senior Advisor, Export Promotion at the Mekong Private Sector Development Facility. For more information about the Mekong Project Development Facility, see http://www.mpdf.org/index.jsp


    This very successful Cambodian tourism portal is making thousands of dollars per week of online bookings (http://www.angkorhotels.org).