Living in South Florida, engineer Qiang "Charlie" Li
often wondered why he found the cheapest airline tickets back to his
native China through Chinese travel agencies rather than Internet
The Boca Raton resident queried fellow Chinese
academics and students in the United States through an online
newsgroup, and in just one day received 3,000 responses backing the
idea of a Web site for low-cost China travel.
Li got to work
on the project, quit his teaching post at Florida Atlantic
University, and in 1997 launched flychina.com. His wife kept her job
elsewhere to help fund the start-up.
Today, Li's Fort
Lauderdale-based company FlyChina Infotek Inc. employs nine people,
including his wife. Sales reached $5.5 million last year and are
projected to top $7 million this year. His client roster now reaches
far beyond Chinese academics in the United States to include U.S.
and European tourists and executives traveling to
Prospects for long-term growth appear excellent too,
as China is forecast to become the world's top travel destination by
2020, surpassing France, according to the Madrid-based World Tourism
Li said he gets cheap fares by specializing in
China and buying tickets airlines sell at "unpublished rates," the
way consolidators do. Bigger Internet travel sites tend to use
software that searches published fares.
Furthermore, he kept
company expenses low and its focus tight to achieve profits after
Marketing is mostly word of mouth or through
Internet search engines, with little cash spent on
He's launched new services -- including hotel
bookings and tours in China -- only when he's found sufficient
client demand. He strives to keep close contact with clients for
feedback, recently offering a chance at free tickets for those who
filled out an online survey.
"The key is to listen to
clients' needs and fulfill them," said the Tianjin-born Li, 44, who
moved to South Florida in 1986 to pursue a doctorate. "You need to
build a team to offer diligent customer service."
includes Beijing-born sales manager Linghong "Larry" Ge, 38, who
studied aeronautics in the United States. Ge now works remotely from
Kansas City, because his wife's job was relocated
"We're asking suggestions from our passengers all the
time," Ge said by phone. "Customers have told us they want to pay
online, so we're working on that now."
Low prices and
personalized service keep Miguel Figueroa of Miami coming back for
tickets from flychina.com. He works for a company that sells
computer parts for trucks and other equipment made in a factory near
Figueroa said flychina.com gets him roundtrip fares
for a bit more than $1,000, including flights between Chinese cities
such as Shanghai and Beijing.
"I think they're cheaper than
others," said Figueroa, who often flies to Asia on American Airlines
to earn frequent-flier miles that he also uses for sales trips in
the Americas. "Maybe they have more connections with airlines in
Indeed, flychina.com will offer more flight options
Li said Beijing and Washington recently agreed to
expand U.S.-China airline service, with American, Continental, Delta
and United among the U.S. carriers seeking to add
Doreen Hemlock can be reached at
firstname.lastname@example.org or 305-810-5009.
FlyChina Infotek Inc.
Business: Sells discount airline tickets and
travel to China
Where: 5300 NW 33rd Ave., Suite 219, Fort
Owner: Qiang "Charlie" Li and
Revenue: $5.5 million in
Advice: "Listen to clients' needs
and fulfill them. Each problem is an opportunity to improve work
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