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MONEYWEB: Well Rajhev Rajkumar is with us now. As the general manager of the PropertyGenie, interesting to hear South African Airways is going aggressively onto the Internet to do its business there. As you might have heard, the chief financial officer, Gareth Griffiths, is saying the new airline that they launch is only going to be taking bookings through the Internet and I suppose that wouldn’t surprise someone like you?

RAJHEV RAJKUMAR: Absolutely not. I’ve spent a few years overseas and came back to South Africa two years ago. Travel is huge in the UK and Europe and the States, and online booking is the way to go. You know, I’m passionate about the Internet. I’ve seen it work in banking. I’ve seen it work in travel, and I have no doubt it’s going to work in the property industry as well. The property portals around the world – Australia, the UK, America – are all doing fantastically and I think property is going to be no different.

MONEYWEB: Rajhev, you are looking at the real estate market being changed in the same way that travel is being changed internationally, but we haven’t quite caught the travel bug, the online booking travel bug, in South Africa. Is this largely because we’re a little behind on broadband?

RAJHEV RAJKUMAR: Alec, you’ve hit the nail on the head. I think it’s broadband, I think it’s Internet connectivity in general, but broadband definitely plays a role. I was in the States last week and even broadband in South Africa is different to broadband in the States. Literally you can get television-quality adverts and content down on your PC at any point. And, you know, there are obviously several other factors that affect this as well – the amount of people that earn enough money to travel and to buy property. But if you look at a country like the UK with 35-36m people online, 20m people with broadband, it’s just incomparable with South Africa where you’ve got four or five million people online and a couple of hundred thousand with broadband.

MONEYWEB: Koos Bekker from Naspers was telling us the other evening that he talked to our youngsters coming out of university – and throw around the terms that are used in the Internet nowadays and they haven’t got a clue, whereas in their operations in North America and China, the eyes would sparkle at those kinds of names and words. How far behind do you think we are here?

RAJHEV RAJKUMAR: Alec, you know, living in the UK you do everything online. I was surprised, coming back to South Africa, you meet some estate agents who say: “Well I had a call from a customer in the UK who bought a flat for R1m without even seeing it.” I’m not surprised, because in the UK people are doing everything online. You’re buying a sofa from a company you’ve never heard of before. You’re buying fridges, getting your handyman, whatever you need you’re doing online, You know, Egg is a big online bank in the UK, and has got something like 2m customers. That’s half the Internet penetration in this country – and it holds back business in general. If you want to do research in terms of importing or exporting, countries like the UK and Europe have lots of information available online. You can find new trade partners, you can find new consultancies and service providers using the Internet. And I think it’s holding back not just big business and the public in general, but also small business which is something we’re trying to develop in South Africa.

MONEYWEB: Rajhev, what about the PropertyGenie, your company? Are you seeing that you’re having an impact yet on that big Saturday newspaper where all the agents, certainly in the past, tended to put all of their ads? Are you managing, or would that be something that you would be using as a benchmark to see how well you are progressing?

RAJHEV RAJKUMAR: Look it’s still early days for us, but the site has been growing fantastically over the last few months in terms of visitor numbers. I am more focused obviously on actually delivering serious leads to agencies. The visitor numbers is quite a random figure for me. I think we are seeing, as we just said, a big leap in visitor numbers on Mondays and Tuesdays. I think people are driving around maybe on Saturday or Sunday, looking at the paper, but it’s definitely back at the Internet, because it offers such great value. Besides being comprehensive, its a usability factor that comes into it.

MONEYWEB: What’s the value for the agent?

RAJHEV RAJKUMAR: For the agent, this is an interesting question. Lots of people ask me. Well, all the big agencies have got websites in this country. I think property, in essence, is a marketplace and, as we all know, marketplaces attract buyers. It makes it so easy, it makes it convenient. You don’t have to go from one side to the other, find out how the search functionality works, find out where the buttons are to click, find the agent and all that. You come to one site and it’s all there for you. And agents started to realise that the marketplace does attract buyers. That’s why, if you drive up certain roads in certain towns, you will find four or five agencies next to each other because they appreciate the fact that what they’re doing is creating a marketplace. It increases their reach. You’re not just advertising in one paper …

MONEYWEB: But cost-wise? I’m just looking at your cost.

RAJHEV RAJKUMAR: Cost-wise it’s phenomenal. I mean, you pay a few thousand rand for a half-page advert in the weekend paper, compared to a couple of hundred rand for a subscription to an online service. Different online businesses have different charging models, obviously.

MONEYWEB: Well that’s an interesting development, yet another one to show the growth of the Internet and the way that it’s taking – not only on the travel side, which is something internationally that we’ve seen companies moving aggressively into, the online trading – but now too property, and now too in South Africa.

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