Lessons From Asia's Under 30 Travel Startups

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Globally, the travel and tourism industry is being shaken by the impact of technology, rapidly changing consumer markets and the emergence of new business models.

One of the fastest-growing industries in the world with 1.2 billion customers last year (source: UN World Tourism Organization), disintermediation creates vast opportunities for those with “brains, fingers and computer” (phrase borrowed from Forbes editor Randall Lane, who was addressing Asia’s Under 30s at the inaugural summit in Singapore recently) to disrupt the market further with ingenious ideas, bring about greater efficiencies and improve lives.

Asian Millennials are letting their brains, fingers and computer get the booking, courageously reinventing the business and making it better, as Asia’s Under 30 travel startups show. Here are three inspiring lessons from them:

1. Don’t be afraid to evolve

India-based JetSetGo Aviation started as an aggregator of private jets and an online marketplace matching planes to people. As business increased, there were loopholes, such as delays in planes turning up or outright cancellations. It just won’t do, said JetSetGo’s young CEO, Kanika Tekriwal. “When people pay a big cheque, they expect professionally-managed planes,” she said. So Kanika turned to managing the aircrafts and their utilisation for owners, earning a fee for the former service and a cut from the latter – not to mention gaining a complete control over service.

As JetSetGo gains their trust, clients start to entrust their expensive holidays to the aviation concierge company. Kanika seizes the opportunity, putting together the best hotels, experiences and private landings whether in India or other countries for them. End-to-end luxury travel management is now a fast-growing part of the business.

Kanika Tekriwal: “In the travel industry, so many factors are not within your control.”

Her biggest lesson since establishing JetSetGo more than two years ago: “You have to persevere. In the travel industry, so many factors are not within your control.”

2. Identify the market and create a real difference

Shao Binbin, 28, identifies a new generation of middle class in China aged 25-35 years for whom traditional tours are “outdated”. So he and a friend set up Shifang Direction Travel Agency which creates tours rarely experienced by most tourists, by drawing on the inputs of “veterans” – Chinese who have lived or are living in local places for more than two years, or who visit a place repeatedly.

“These people have a pursuit of quality of life and also have a good understanding of Chinese travel habits. This way, we can create the most special tours with the highest efficiency. Eighty per cent of our customers could be satisfied with 20 per cent of our tour products,” said Shao.

Shao Binbin: “The traditional way of creating a tour is outdated.”

Shifang makes even the much-photographed Golden Gate Bridge special by bringing clients to view the bridge from the opposite beach instead of from the Fisherman’s Wharf, as usually recommended by traditional travel agencies. It focuses mainly on  uncommon routes in popular destinations, for example, Kanazawa in Japan, and new destinations for Chinese travellers such as Bhutan, Peru and Bolivia.

Shao said his target this year was to increase tours from 30 to 50 and the number of customers from 200 to 1,000 per month.

But his biggest lesson to-date was simpler but true, he said: “Insist on doing what you love to do and what you are capable of doing, and never give up.”

3. Think global and big right from the start

Vietnam-based Triip.me could have been timid and start the e-commerce platform  by testing the waters in the country or region first. But co-founder Ha Lam said she and her husband Hai Ho wanted Triip.me to be global “from day one”.

Today, Triip.me, which crowdsources locals to guide visitors on the unseen charms of a destination, has signed over 10,000 “local experts” and more than 7,000 tours in over 635 cities in 93 countries. The biggest lesson she took from this, said Ha Lam, was that “happiness is real when it is shared”.

“Today’s travellers want a closer connection to the people and place they are visiting. There should be no gap between the tourist and the guide; there should be no gap between Triip.me and our local experts – we learn, we share everything.

Happiness is real when it is shared,” said Ha Lam.

Ha Lam and team: “There should be no gap between the tourist and the guide.”


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