by Barry McCall

On-line travel booking company Sabre Holdings Corporation has acquired Dublin-based technology company Gradient Solutions Limited for an undisclosed sum. Gradient Solutions develops and hosts customised solutions for major travel companies, including on-line travel agencies, airlines and other travel suppliers, enabling business-to-business and business-to-consumer e-commerce via the Internet.

Gradient will operate as an independent subsidiary within Sabre. Gradient's two founders, Stuart Coulson and Gerry Samuels, now become vice presidents for global e-commerce development for Sabre Gradient, with responsibility for the company's five development centres and marketing centres.

"Our technologies are compatible and we would have been competing in the same space, but we would have been complementary in terms of geography, and that's one of the strengths of the combination," said Coulson, a travel industry technologies expert who has also held positions with Datalex and Worldspan. "We have a strong European presence and Sabre are strong in the United States."

Neither Gradient nor Sabre would comment on speculation about the deal's value, which media reports have put at between IEP10 million and IEP20 million, although the actual value is believed to be closer to IEP20 million.

The link with Gradient enhances Sabre's service suite through its international and customisable on-line booking engine. Hosting capabilities have also been extended, with the new group now having two data centres, one in Europe and the other in the US. Gradient's technologies provide tools for multi-language and multi-currency needs and offer the ability to connect to multiple global distribution systems.

The combined customer base will include KLM Royal Dutch, Austrian Airlines, Thomas Cook, Swissair, The Qualiflyer Group, Cheap Tickets, US Airways, Sabena, STA Travel and Volando.com among others.

In the US the on-line travel business is expected to reach USD29.4 billion in value by 2003, nearly four times the 1999 level, according to a recent Forrester Research report. In addition, even though on-line travel is still in its infancy, travel products are sold over the Internet more than any other consumer product, said Forrester.

The dollar volume of travel sales on the Web currently surpasses that of software, books, music, clothing, games, toys, videos and sporting goods combined. On-line travel spending in Western Europe will increase nearly tenfold from 1999 to 2003 to EURbillion, said Jupiter Communications.