Encyclopedia Limited (trading as WHL or is an online travel-services (accommodation and tour) booking network. The company is incorporated in Hong Kong
Hong Kong
Hong Kong is one of two Special Administrative Regions of the People's Republic of China , the other being Macau. A city-state situated on China's south coast and enclosed by the Pearl River Delta and South China Sea, it is renowned for its expansive skyline and deep natural harbour...

 and has offices in Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City , formerly named Saigon is the largest city in Vietnam...

, Prague
Prague is the capital and largest city of the Czech Republic. Situated in the north-west of the country on the Vltava river, the city is home to about 1.3 million people, while its metropolitan area is estimated to have a population of over 2.3 million...

, Cape Town
Cape Town
Cape Town is the second-most populous city in South Africa, and the provincial capital and primate city of the Western Cape. As the seat of the National Parliament, it is also the legislative capital of the country. It forms part of the City of Cape Town metropolitan municipality...

, Belo Horizonte
Belo Horizonte
Belo Horizonte is the capital of and largest city in the state of Minas Gerais, located in the southeastern region of Brazil. It is the third largest metropolitan area in the country...

, Sydney
Sydney is the most populous city in Australia and the state capital of New South Wales. Sydney is located on Australia's south-east coast of the Tasman Sea. As of June 2010, the greater metropolitan area had an approximate population of 4.6 million people...

 and Seattle.


WHL started in 2002 as a project of the Mekong Private Sector Development Facility (MPDF) which is the technical advisory services arm of the International Finance Corporation
International Finance Corporation
The International Finance Corporation promotes sustainable private sector investment in developing countries.IFC is a member of the World Bank Group and is headquartered in Washington, D.C., United States....

 (IFC, part of the World Bank
World Bank
The World Bank is an international financial institution that provides loans to developing countries for capital programmes.The World Bank's official goal is the reduction of poverty...

 Group) in the region covering Vietnam
Vietnam – sometimes spelled Viet Nam , officially the Socialist Republic of Vietnam – is the easternmost country on the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia. It is bordered by China to the north, Laos to the northwest, Cambodia to the southwest, and the South China Sea –...

, Cambodia
Cambodia , officially known as the Kingdom of Cambodia, is a country located in the southern portion of the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia...

 and Laos
Laos Lao: ສາທາລະນະລັດ ປະຊາທິປະໄຕ ປະຊາຊົນລາວ Sathalanalat Paxathipatai Paxaxon Lao, officially the Lao People's Democratic Republic, is a landlocked country in Southeast Asia, bordered by Burma and China to the northwest, Vietnam to the east, Cambodia to the south and Thailand to the west...

. Given the skills gaps, language difficulties and Internet access problems facing travel service providers in destinations in the developing world, a new online accommodation booking model was needed which bridged the last mile and allowed locally owned travel product to be connected and sold to the global market.

The approach adopted by the WHL project team was to separate all those things that needed to be done locally (i.e. identifying and negotiating contracts with the local travel service providers or processing the booking) from those best done centrally and which the WHL team managed. Local partners, called e-marketplace operators (MPOs), became responsible for collecting and loading local digital content onto the web and keeping it up to date, as well as acting as the interface between travellers and accommodation providers when questions were asked, bookings made etc. The WHL team focused on the technology platform for content management and booking management, as well as global Internet marketing, provision of payment gateways, and management and technical support.

The first pilot site was established in 2002 in Siem Reap
Siem Reap
Siem Reap is the capital city of Siem Reap Province in northwestern Cambodia, and is the gateway to Angkor region.Siem Reap has colonial and Chinese-style architecture in the Old French Quarter, and around the Old Market...

, Cambodia, site of the famous Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat is a temple complex at Angkor, Cambodia, built for the king Suryavarman II in the early 12th century as his state temple and capital city. As the best-preserved temple at the site, it is the only one to have remained a significant religious centre since its foundation – first Hindu,...

 temple complex. The pilot was done with the cooperation of the Siem Reap Angkor Hotel & Guesthouse Association and early success in Siem Reap led to requests for replication from hotel associations, first in Phnom Penh
Phnom Penh
Phnom Penh is the capital and largest city of Cambodia. Located on the banks of the Mekong River, Phnom Penh has been the national capital since the French colonized Cambodia, and has grown to become the nation's center of economic and industrial activities, as well as the center of security,...

 and then in Vientiane
-Geography:Vientiane is situated on a bend of the Mekong river, which forms the border with Thailand at this point.-Climate:Vientiane features a tropical wet and dry climate with a distinct monsoon season and a dry season. Vientiane’s dry season spans from November through March. April marks the...

, Lao PDR. Sites were also established in Vietnam and, in 2005, WHL started adding destinations outside the Mekong, in Vanuatu
Vanuatu , officially the Republic of Vanuatu , is an island nation located in the South Pacific Ocean. The archipelago, which is of volcanic origin, is some east of northern Australia, northeast of New Caledonia, west of Fiji, and southeast of the Solomon Islands, near New Guinea.Vanuatu was...

, Samoa
Samoa , officially the Independent State of Samoa, formerly known as Western Samoa is a country encompassing the western part of the Samoan Islands in the South Pacific Ocean. It became independent from New Zealand in 1962. The two main islands of Samoa are Upolu and one of the biggest islands in...

 and Fiji
Fiji , officially the Republic of Fiji , is an island nation in Melanesia in the South Pacific Ocean about northeast of New Zealand's North Island...

 to test the model in other environments. After successful pilots in these countries it was decided to spin the project off from the IFC to allow the model to be moved to the global market. On March 31, 2006, Limited was officially made a private company.

The interesting point of departure for WHL from more traditional online tourism bookings businesses is the unique online/offline franchise business model that has been developed out of necessity in order to service the business. The MPO not only owns and operates that actual online booking business in their country, but also has the opportunity to network with other like-minded tourism professionals in other destinations around the world. This local connection network creates a space where an interesting confluence of social networking and business development come together to share best business practices with previously disparate colleagues.

Current status

After spinning off from the IFC, WHL added tour bookings to the accommodation booking functionality, as well as instant bookings (booking from allotment), last-minute bookings and packaged accommodations and tours. At the end of 2008 WHL had 150 destination sites live in 60 countries. Projections are that by end March 2009 there will be 200 destinations live in 83 countries. WHL continues to work closely with development agencies such as the IFC, World Bank, IADB
IADB may refer to:* Inter-American Development Bank, an international organization to support Latin American and Caribbean economic and social development and regional integration...

 and USAID in launching destinations sites in many poor and conflict-affected countries/regions around the world.

To undertake consulting and training work associated with tourism development in developing countries WHL launched a consulting business, WHL Consulting, in July 2008 in a joint venture with Geosavvy Development LLC in the USA. WHL has also developed a program called Caring for the Destination as a means to encourage the adoption of sustainable tourism
Sustainable tourism
Sustainable tourism is tourism attempting to make a low impact on the environment and local culture, while helping to generate future employment for local people. The aim of sustainable tourism is to ensure that development brings a positive experience for local people, tourism companies and the...

by accommodation and tour providers. In 2010, WHL Consulting launched a highly innovative new program called the Tourism Development Bank
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