Bisignani builds Online Travel Portalfor 2001 launch

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Giovanni Bisignani, best known for leading Alitalia during the early 1990s, has been chosen to lead the Online Travel Portal (OTP), the joint website being launched by nine major European shareholder airlines. It is seen partly as a response to a similar initiative from US carriers with their Orbitz website and to online travel agents such as Travelocity and Expedia.

"Although no date has been set, we will be active in several European countries this year," says Bisignani. He took up his post as chief executive of London-based OTP Limited in early February. Bisignani's appointment will add considerable weight to OTP, which was unveiled last May, and help the project gather momentum. The airline partners had hoped to get the online travel agency up and running by the end of 2000.

Bisignani's priority is to build the OTP team, with a staff of around 50 expected in the first phase. It has brought in Nicolas De Santis, formerly chief marketing officer of currency website beenz.com as marketing director.. Simon Tucker, previously in charge of finance for the global travel service of Thomas Cook, will become finance director. Information technology and business development directors will be hired soon.

"OTP will be the first true pan-European travel portal," says Bisignani, and "will move quickly to establish itself in the market". It will be managed independently of its shareholders, who will continue to offer their own website booking services. Although the precise products to be offered via OTP, which is still to be named, are not yet fully defined, the site will sell tickets across all segments of the business, and not just low fare tickets, he says. As well as selling flights, OTP will sell complementary products such as hotels and car rentals, and tickets on other transport modes.

Bisignani has been out of the airline business since leaving Alitalia in 1994. He joins OTP from his posts of chief executive of SM Logistics, a company partly owned by GE Capital, and president of Tirrennia de Navigazione, one of Italy's Europe's largest ferry operators.

OTP is a joint venture between Aer Lingus, Air France, Alitalia, Austrian Airlines, British Airways, Finnair, Iberia, KLM and Lufthansa.