For those struck with a sense of adventure and strong case of wanderlust, traveling is part and parcel of 21st century modern-day life. Fighting against visa problems, culture shocks, and language barriers, Asians are opening themselves up to getting out and seeing the world. And it doesn’t have to be a cross-continent trip; Asia itself is a huge melting pot.
In 2011, CNN Money reported that online travel sites are onto a huge boom. Contributor, Katherine Ryder states: “The World Tourism Organization predicts that the global tourism industry will add 66 million jobs by 2020, 50 million of which will be in Asia. The online travel industry stands ready to capitalize on this boom — but who will reap the rewards?” Of course, it’s been a while since 2011 and here are my findings as to who, exactly, will bring in the harvest in Asia.
Plan your experiences
This opposes the brick-and-mortar travel agencies which provide tours which (usually) end up being a “shopping-and-rushing” trip. Most of these planned tours are a way for agencies to get some form of commission: bring the tourists over to the restaurant and you’ll get a five percent cut. Many tourists, nowadays, have chosen to go with a free-and-easy itinerary where they plan their individual experiences. However, since there are not that many resources for those choosing to go off the beaten path, a lot of them end up going to tourist entrapments which tend to not be that representative of true local life.
This sentiment has been pretty widespread and definitely led to the birth of a number of online travel companies which provide a curated marketplace of the things tourists could do with locals. If we have to pick three of these marketplaces, the best would be: Indiescapes, Voyagin and Triip.
Indiescapes, launched back in April by Zhi Min Seetoh and Shum Heidi, hasn’t quite reported their numbers, save for some 10,000 page views in late-May. According to Tnooz, the Singapore-based company has raised S$20,000 (US$15,600) through the local ACE Start-ups Grant, and are looking to accelerate their business through more rounds of financing.
Voyagin, founded last December, runs like Indiescapes (and Triip, but we’ll get to that in a bit) except that it’s a Japanese-based company. It was earlier covered by Tech Crunch in March as a “website [that] targets both backpackers and luxury travelers between the ages of 25 to 50 who prefer not to book packaged tours.” Voyagin, originally called FindJPN, had also raised US$450,000 having opened as part of Open Network Lab, a fairly well-known incubator in Japan and is looking to relocate its headquarters to Singapore.
Triip, based in Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City, was started by Lam Thi Thuy Ha (or better known as Ha Lam) around December last year. Highlighted by Truong Thanh Thuy, co-founder and CEO of Greengar as “a new hope for Vietnam’s tourism”, Triip has said that their most popular destination is still Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam.
Competition is rife
With so many startups in this vertical, you would think some of them might even quiver when they think about the rife competition in Asia. But not Voyagin. While Tushar Khandelwal, Voyagin’s head of marketing and community came down to Singapore, we asked him what he thought about Voyagin’s competition. He said, “We actually don’t spend much time thinking about our competition. The number of experiences we have, and the number of hosts we have, is unmatched by our competition. Our traction is far more than [others have]. For example, website rankings. Our execution is also different – so we’re just taking an overall different approach to them. That’s why we don’t pay much attention to our competition. I mean, we know who they are.”
Triip, on the other hand, shared over email that they are betting on their pool of talents in Vietnam to compete with global competitors. “We are the only in Southeast Asia with more than 100 tours in 21 cities. Geographically, we have advantages. [...] We also have access to many hardworking, English speaking customer-oriented staffs to deliver 24/7 customer service at much lower cost.” According to Hai, principal at Triip, they have had 1,200 registered users in the last four months, with 40 percent of them creating a trip.
Tushar shared that in mid-May, they already have about 30,000 monthly visitors with over 500 experiences booked. Their main revenue model is to take a 15 percent cut and a US$3 service fee with every transaction. In contrast, Triip takes a 10 percent cut from each booked program.
Other online travel-related startups
Travel is a huge market, given that the number of tourists have been reported to be increasing across the whole of Asia. Besides catering to those who do not want to go for packaged tours, there are also other online travel-related startups which solve issues like travel searches and booking of accommodation.
In terms of travel searches, the one Asia-based company that quickly rose to fame was Wego, who yesterday announced their Series C round led by Crescent Point. Of course, it opposes the other major players like Trip Advisor and Expedia. Its main services include flights, hotels and holiday rentals. Launched in 2006 in city-state Singapore, Wego now provides travel content for the several online publications like MSN Southeast Asia. In an earlier article, the company, with its services active in some 52 markets and 30 languages used, claims to generate more than US$10 million in potential bookings for their travel partners every day.
As for the inconvenience of booking hotels or places to stay, it usually comes when users have to do last-minute trips. It has also seen companies like HotelQuickly swiftly enter the market. HotelQuickly allows you to grab a room at the eleventh hour on your mobile, and was launched in March this year.
With already six of the hottest destinations in Asia secured, the company has operations in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand, and will see geographical expansions in the near future. UPDATE: HotelQuickly has expanded to 10 countries last May.
Obviously, the vein does not restrict to just these two: for hotels which want to do a customized app, there’s Appy Hotel; for real-time menu translation, there’s Waygo; for those looking for holiday houses in Hua Hin, there’s Pompome, and the list goes on.
It’s all about trust
Travel-related startups, and however niche some might say they are, are a dime a dozen. Traveling is getting easier by the minute, with what budget airlines, hotels, Groupon deals and backpacking routes all available on the Internet. However, since you’re heading overseas, maybe a new, unfamiliar land, small things get important. These startups have to offer something that users can’t find on their own and that is a bridge of trust and convenience.
Users can log on, know that information is real and credible, and not have to worry about getting cheated of their money (Voyagin curates their tour guides by actually meeting up with them). For HotelQuickly, it’s also a matter of convenience and ease when users don’t have to panic when they can’t get a hotel.
Sure, every startup needs trust from the community but the real issue here is for travel startups to generate trust for the very people they’re serving. This is especially so since it’s about people leaving their homes and stepping on foreign ground.