Keys to a new world

Roger Trapp looks at a web service that helps holiday makers create their own paradise abroad
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The Independent Online
This weekend, as the holiday season begins in earnest, thousands of people will follow the trail laid by business executives and prime ministers and head for the hills of Tuscany and Umbria. That considerably fewer will experience the charms of the neighbouring Le Marche region is an oversight that an unlikely internet entrepreneur is aiming to put right.

Until two years ago Giuliano Gnagnatti was managing director of the UK arm of Merloni Domestic Appliances, producer of the Ariston and Indesit washing machines and the fourth-largest manufacturer of white goods in Europe. But after a boardroom disagreement he struck out on his own and established Liberation Ventures. His aim was to use the latest technology to help consumers make "informed lifestyle decisions".

The first beneficiary of his strategy is his native Le Marche, a region of fewer than 1.5 million people that is being opened up to UK visitors by the introduction of direct Ryanair flights to Ancona.

"They have a passion for things that improve the quality of life but they're a bit shy," Mr Gnagnatti says of his fellow Marchigiani.

"I don't want to change their character, but I would like to help them to be more positive and share with the right people what they have."

Since "what they have" is all Italy has to offer - from spectacular countryside to fine "slow" food - he is confident that the internet business he has launched under the name Paradise Possible is a winner.

Mr Gnagnatti has plenty of promotional experience: along with Nigel Grasham, a former Merloni marketing director and current colleague, he was responsible for such campaigns as "Ariston-and-on". But he claims that Paradise Possible takes "territory marketing" to a new level.

"Our aim is to create a vehicle through which the whole Marche region can promote itself with 1.4 million collaborators," he says. Once the concept is established, he envisages spreading it to other locations.

Paradise Possible sets out to provide accurate, unbiased and detailed information to enable people to create their own paradises. Essentially, it is a website divided into two main sections - a general introduction to the region and a more specific part promoting the country homes available for sale.

A powerful search process called My Own Paradise guides the visitor through the properties, searches for the ones that best match his or her dream list and offers assistance with finding architects, surveyors, builders, banks and solicitors.

Although companies and home owners pay a fee to promote properties on the website, Paradise Possible acts like a publisher to give as complete a picture of the homes as possible, often drawing on the expertise of locals - or "angels", as Mr Gnagnatti terms them. In fact, it has produced a glossy book about the region with sponsorship from Ryanair. Browsers on the website can obtain this free of charge.

The intention, explains Mr Gnagnatti, is to change the rules of the game from the traditional "push" concept, where goods and services are promoted by providers, to a "pull" approach, where the consumer takes the initiative. The internet helps to make the dream of greater consumer choice a reality through bypassing the traditional marketing channels and middle men that contribute to the cost of transactions.

This underlying conviction is also applied to White Box, Mr Gnagnatti's latest innovation. White Box is, as its name suggests, a return to his old business of kitchen appliances. But the difference is that he is using his enthusiasm for the internet to make a direct link between the manufacturer and the buyer.

Moreover, he is using the same approach as with Paradise Possible to offer would-be purchasers much more information about different mach- ines than is traditionally gained from sales staff.

And these are only two businesses in what Mr Gnagnatti envisages will be a wide-ranging operation. Indeed, when he established Liberation Ventures his initial aim was to fund management buy-ins. And that is still a possibility. For the moment, though, he is concentrating on getting his first two operations off to a solid start.

So far, both have been funded from his own wealth, with help from an investment by another former Merloni executive, Edoardo Del Neri. But once they start to grow, fresh funds will be sought from outside financiers and this might be followed by a launch on the Alternative Investment Market or Ofex.

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