When Lonely Planet launched its Haystack online booking service five days before Christmas, 390 properties were listed. Six weeks later there are more than 1000. It's a typically fast ramp-up for the publisher of backpacker guides, which is seeing demand for online services soar.

Five million people log on to the Lonely Planet website each month. Its Thorntree online forum has 300,000 registered members. It also hosts a classifieds site where travellers can sell anything from a backpack to a Kombi van, while the "Bluelist" records its clients' experiences and recommendations.

The challenge for companies in the sector, including Lonely Planet, isn't creating demand for online services - it's developing the robust back-end systems to support the interaction.

Technology operations manager Peter Leslie says the company's "legacy website" had been struggling to cope with the load.

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