Travel App 2.0: 4 New Southeast Asian Start-ups Travelers Should Check Out
From booking to managing your trips
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
Remember the days when travel agents, sandwiched into dingy offices with telephones virtually glued to their skulls, actually booked flights and hotels? And when word-of-mouth recommendations and sexy magazine articles (perish the thought!) determined one’s itinerary rather than Trip Advisor?
Such memories are fleeting, no doubt. The era of the DIY traveler—one who plans and books his own adventure through Zuji or Agoda—is here, and the need for a more local, customizable travel experience is here too.
With smartphones and tablets being so pervasive, travel companies tried to reach their audience with a slew of apps and mobile-optimized sites. Winnie Tan, founder of travel website TripZilla.com, says people have come to expect instant booking and information on the go. Booking sites, for instance, have been wildly successful, she says.
“On the other hand, trip planning, location based maps and discovery apps that started with a bang did not quite achieve the success that travel companies were hoping for. Apps for individual airlines or travel brands also often fail to gain popularity as not many travelers will use a specific airline/hotel chain frequently enough to warrant the need to download an app for just that brand,” Tan says.
For Juerg Kaufmann, co-founder and CEO of Singapore-based TravelerBuddy, most travel apps are still not developed in a client-centric way. Many user pain points remain unaddressed, Kaufmann says, citing the lack of support for travelers once bookings and other arrangements have been made.
“In many cases, travelers weren’t able to travel because the passport was about to expire, visas weren’t in place, vaccinations weren’t taken,” Kaufmann notes. He also cites security and medical risks as factors that could jeopardize one’s trip.
He adds, “Actually, you might find many of the information while searching on the web or use dedicated apps, but what is missing is one-stop-solution that is always up-to-date.”
Data flow is also an issue, according to Kaufmann. “One example is that if you make a trip somewhere, you need to share the same information (e.g. Name, Passport Number, Passport Expiry) again and again. Literally from booking the trip up to the hotel check-in you need to wait because the data does not flow,” he says.
Addressing these gaps is crucial in order to take advantage of Southeast Asia’s online travel market, whose revenue is expected to hit $90 billion by 2025, according to a report on e-commerce by Google and Singapore-based investment company Temasek Holdings.
Tan says in recent years, many travel giants have recognized the difficulties in penetrating the Southeast Asian market and have adopted the strategy of acquiring or working with local start-ups, who can bring in localized travel solutions.
Here are four start-ups in Southeast Asia that aim to make travel more convenient, budget-friendly, and personalized:
TravelerBuddy is envisioned as a one-stop digital travel assistant and was founded by Kaufmann, Philippe Graeppi, and Sam Sena. Users can forward their booking confirmation details to TravelerBuddy and it will auto-generate their itinerary. Personal information, such as passport details, credit cards, and insurance, can be stored in the app and is available offline for easy access. The app boasts of a variety of features, such as Intuitive Pre-Travel Check to remind users of all relevant travel documents, as well as customs information and health requirements. Flight delays or gate changes are covered by the app's Real-Time Alerts. Business travelers can use the Expense Assistant feature that keeps a record of their invoices, thus making expense reimbursement more convenient.
Singapore-based TripZilla helps users find the best tour packages and deals from the country’s top travel agencies. It is a free service that allows users to compare real prices and itineraries, while providing them with travel inspirations to help them plan their dream getaway. With TripZilla, travelers can enjoy articles from writers around the region—from how to travel solo in Japan to epic New Year countdown parties in Southeast Asia to the essential backpacking list every adventurer must know.
With the prevalence of information consumption via digital devices, travel inspiration sites like TripZilla.com have also benefitted from this trend with the growth in readership numbers, according to Tan. “Technology has revolutionized reading habits and travel publishers like us have adopted mobile-first strategies to keep our readers engaged,” she says. “We also invest a lot of effort into the management of our social media channels as it is the prime feeder of travel stories on mobile.”
Indonesia-based Traveloka is a top hotel and flight-booking platform in Southeast Asia. It was founded in 2012 by Derianto Kusuma and Ferry Unardi. And it has since partnered with more than 70 domestic and international airlines with routes throughout Asia Pacific, Europe, and America. One feature, called TravelokaQuick, enables users to book a flight or hotel in less than a minute.
StayNest is a travel search engine for hotels, vacation rentals, and flights based in Malaysia. This start-up aims to take the hassle out of searching through dozens of websites to look for the best deals. It gives users access to rates from major travel sites, such as Booking.com, Expedia, and Hotels.com, and presents the information so it is easy to understand and compare. Users can also list their property and offer it for rent to travelers.