Swedish online travel entrepreneur Stephan Ekbergh has entered the South African travel market by launching his first non-Scandinavian operation, Travelstart.co.za.

Ekbergh, who founded Sweden's first online travel agency Mr Jet in 1998 and Travelstart websites across Scandinavia, is planning to move his operational headquarters from Sweden to Cape Town.

"South Africa is a good place for us both strategically and culturally," said Ekbergh. "I can't think of a better place to have headquarters than Cape Town.

South Africa is a great country. In many ways it reminds me of my company; it's a start-up with lots of potential and great people."

The development of the brand in South Africa is the cornerstone of a larger roll-out to approximately 15 countries by 2007, with an international help desk based in Cape Town.

In time he expects South Africa to be doing 300 000 to 500 000 enquiries on his sites each month, and to build a R1-billion business in four years.

Just like Travelstart's Nordic operation, the new South African travel service simplifies travel booking by bringing together airfares from all major airlines and low cost carriers on one site. Hotel bookings and insurance are among other services available.

Ekbergh believes that the combination of Scandinavian-developed technology, truly customer-centric service and the latest in user experience design will revolutionise the industry.

"We believe in challenging structures. It's good for the customers and the industry as a whole. It brings efficiency and lowers fares. That's really what we are all about as a company."

Ekbergh, who set up Travelstart in 1999, made a reported $9.8-million by selling his interests in the firm before the internet bubble burst. He bought the business back in 2001 and today his Travelstart sites in Sweden, Norway and Denmark attract half a million visitors each month and several hundred thousand customers per year.

As the owner of one of the few privately held online travel companies of any size in the world, Ekbergh plans a public listing of Travelstart on the JSE in due course.