Is there too much competition in travel?

There's lots of competition, but it's also the world's largest industry. The up side is that there's a big cake to go after. The down side is it's expensive to get to the scale we've got to. But we were very sanguine about knowing we had to get to that scale before we were able to drive through profits.

With so many big competitors coming in from the US, can independent British UK companies survive?

The US players aren't new. They have been around for many years. If you look at Travelocity, Priceline and Expedia, they've all been spending a lot of money on marketing. Despite that we have continued with some very good growth.

What's the secret?

I think it's continuing to focus on differentiation. You've got to have a unique product and that means a lot of work. That's one of the reasons why we have a lot of people. We also invest a lot in technology - we invest about £25m a year in technology to improve that experience.

From a customer's perspective and from a supply perspective, we are able to add value to both. It sounds cliched but it's what we do. That's why an increasing number of suppliers work with us, and why we reach an increasing number of customers.

Wouldn't you have rather gone into some other, more predictable business?

No, because I love the pace of change. I think if ever there's an industry which needs fast thinking and rapid decision-making - it's the internet. If ever there's an industry that has changed people's lives it's the internet. It's a good place to be.

Brent Hoberman is CEO of lastminute.com

INTERVIEW BY SIMON CALDER

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