Tours and trips are perhaps the hottest part of the travel industry right now – as evidenced by an Airbnb acquisition last year before the tech giant rolled out its own Trips service.
Eric Gnock Fah has been in the space since before it was cool. When he started Klook in early 2014 with two other co-founders, the crew wanted to fill in the bits not covered by all the flight and hotel-booking sites – the actual fun part of the holiday. So they started connecting with tour and experience providers around the world, giving users an easy way to book, say, a ride on the “Sagano Romantic Train” through cherry orchards in Kyoto, or a New York helicopter ride.
The service, which saw 5 million bookings in 2016, now covers 80 destinations around the world. Most of its users are in Asia, Eric tells Tech in Asia.
“We want to grow our market share not only in existing markets where we’re currently quite strong, which is Hong Kong, Taiwan, and to some extent Singapore, but this money will be used to open up new markets and really grow in Southeast Asia,” he says.
Global travel sales booked online was last year are pegged at US$565 billion by Emarketer, rising to US$817 billion by 2020. “Digital travel sales in Asia-Pacific will see the fastest growth throughout the forecast,” said the analysts, putting Eric’s startup right at the center of the action.
“2017 is where we’ll really go deep-dive into all the meaningful markets in Asia. Thailand will be launching very soon,” Eric adds, referring to a local language version of the site. “And then Indonesia. Korea we just did. Japan will be [later]. And then India.”
It’s also operating in mainland China.
He doesn’t see Airbnb as a big threat for now as it’s focusing on a “very curated” selection of “quite expensive” experiences.
Eric calls his site – or we should say app, since 70 percent of business is on mobile – “pretty much the largest and leading one in Asia” in its genre. While it’s not without startup rivals, it’s making hay in the absence of any tech giants devoted to this trips-and-tours segment.
The next phase is to connect travelers with other things they need, like restaurants.
The startup takes a commission from each tour booked.
The next phase is to expand to connecting travelers with other things they’ll need during their vacations, such as restaurants and useful services like airport rides and pocket wifi. Aside from geographic expansion, these new service offerings will be a big focus for the team in 2017.
“The whole spectrum of really what a traveler needs when they get to a destination,” points out Eric.
The former investment banker admits he’s learnt a lot in the space since the last major funding round, when the team was made up of 30 people. Now it’s 200, spread across eight Asian offices.
“As a first-time entrepreneur, [I’ve learnt] we won’t be able to do everything hands-on,” he explains. “So it’s all about getting the right people, or setting the right structure for individual teams, and letting them run their part.”
Existing investors including Matrix Partners and Welight Capital also contributed to the fresh funding.