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Business  20, Jun 2014

This startup lets you buy bus tickets from your laptop and smartphone

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Singaporean company 12Go can be the solution to backpackers’ woes. How so?

When I used to live in Bangkok, Thailand, I had a penchant for taking the bus or rail to nearby towns over the weekend. I started with Pattaya, and then proceeded with Hua Hin and Cha Am.

Initially, it was extremely difficult for me — a foreigner — to figure out what time the buses or trains would leave, and how much the trip would cost. Resources online were limited to internet forums, random travel websites and the official State Railway website.

At that time, it was still possible to book an e-ticket with the State Railway website, but due to the complicated interface, I was heavily deterred. In 2013, the government chose to axe the online booking feature. If only I could buy my tickets online, I thought. No more queues, no more confusion as I stand in front of the different operators, obviously befuddled.

Book your tickets online
Meet 12Go Asia Pte Ltd. Founded in late 2013, the Singaporean e-ticketing company for transport services had first gone live in 2012. It was the brainchild of Alexey Abolmasov, CEO and Founder, 12Go, who had returned from his travels within Southeast Asia. Backpackers need a better way of booking transits, he reckoned.

He echoed my woes, “… first you should physically find the provider — the location of its box office, then select a proper route, and buy your paper ticket by cash. No options for online bookings were available, with a very few exceptions, which appeared to be useless — unless you could read and write the local languages fluently.”

For the record, the web and mobile startup had previously secured US$300,000 from angel investors to build its product and support the commercial launch of the platform. Its apps are available on iOS and Google Play.

At the moment, there are over 100 transport operators on board, with more than 15,000 departures from the region. Users are still not able to book train tickets off the platform. Buses seem to be its top priority. The firm has plans to integrate ferries and air travel into its offerings soon.

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Abolmasov further explained why only certain trips can be booked online, while others are on the website for reference purposes. “It depends on the system connectivity: we may provide booking facility for those operators which are fully connected to the 12Go system already,” he said, adding, “This is quite a time-consuming task to arrange the system integration as some companies do not have any back-end systems at all, or their IT capabilities are extremely limited, so we work hard on connecting various operator systems right now.”

However, having the data in the system before integrating can help accelerate the process. Going forward, all 12Go needs is the operator’s permission to start online sales.

In Southeast Asia, online sales can be tricky for users too, given that not many people have access to advanced payment methods. Thus, the platform has a bevy of options including credit cards, PayPal, and offline counter services such as Tesco or 7-Eleven.

Also Read: 3 challenges and opportunities online hotel booking sites face

As a B2B and B2C company, 12Go targets both, enterprises and consumers. According to the entrepreneur, operators and agents are happy with the additional sales channel, and riders are also pleased with the convenience that comes with online booking. Having launched the commercial service in February 2014, the site sees around 600 daily unique visitors, and a booking conversion of 1.5 per cent to two per cent.

In the next six months, it is looking to give its web platform a needed facelift, and allow booking services in three new countries.

Elaine Huang

Elaine Huang

Elaine is a fervent believer that if there ever is a zombie apocalypse, we will all be snapping away at them with our phones and posting them onto Instagram. A Mass Communication graduate of Ngee Ann Polytechnic's School of Film and Media Studies, she enjoys writing about technology and entrepreneurs. When not hashtagging her way through all sorts of trouble, Elaine is probably contemplating how to write in the third person.

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