At a time when travel-related businesses are closing due to the success hit by the industry, a Malaysian travel-related start-up, Tourplus Technology Sdn Bhd, has managed to raise $ 1 million (RM 4.15 million) from a series of Raising income from investors who are optimistic about the industry who believe this company is well positioned to capitalize on the expected surge in domestic tourism once the pandemic is resolved.
These investors include Citrine Capital’s founder and CEO, Wong Jin Hui, in his capacity as an angel investor, the Malaysian company GT-MAX, the global venture company SOSV, the accelerator Chinaccelerator of SOSV and several other unnamed investors.
Wong, who leads the investment, told Digital Edge in an interview that investors were most impressed by the fact that Tourplus has its own travel agency license and has already signed up more than 3,000 drivers and guides on its platform.
“Your transactions last year have been pretty impressive,” he says.
He adds that following the events in China, investors expect the domestic travel industry to recover significantly in the next year or the following year, depending on when the Covid-19 vaccine comes out.
Wong believes that Tourplus is on the right track for the Southeast Asian market. “For Southeast Asians, the most important thing is food. So for the next 24 months, Tourplus will be creating something new that the crowd can use to create content in the app to let people know where the good food is. “
The founder and CEO of Tourplus, Rickson Goh, said in the press release on the successful conclusion of this financing round that 40% of the investment will be used for the expansion of the product platform and the further development of the Tourplus technology solution, while 30% will be used for marketing, to expand its market base through customer acquisition and branding across the region. The remaining 30% will be used to increase the workforce.
He’s pretty sure the company has found a formula for success and is poised to tackle what he sees as a fairly untapped market – domestic tourism in Southeast Asia.
Tourplus started in 2015 as a platform for the common use of travel routes. “It was like that people didn’t have to plan their own vacations. You could share the itineraries of others who had traveled to the same destination for free. For you it was more like a kind of social media to share your travel experiences. “
While the platform was undoubtedly popular, there was only one problem: there was no way to make money from it. So, the company turned for the first time in 2017.
In the first two years of operation, Tourplus saw that people not only wanted to share travel routes, but also a private guide to take care of all the fiddly things like arranging transportation and booking.
“We discovered that there was a void in the private touring market that was not addressed by any technology platform at the time. In fact, much of the touring business was still very manual, ”Goh emphasizes.
So the company designed an app and set up a website to enable private tours.
It was a popular concept and at least the donors liked it. Tourplus was able to collect 400,000 US dollars for this private tour guide model last year.
According to Goh, when the new business model was introduced, around 90% of customers were foreigners – mostly from Australia, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines. “We brought inbound customers, that is, people from overseas, to Malaysia.
Then William Bao Bean, Partner at SOSV and Managing Director of Chinaccelerator, brought the company to Shanghai for a pitch and it was included in Chinaccelerator Batch 16, which ran from September to November 2019. It was doing very well for the company, and the company had positioned itself to bring tourists from China to Southeast Asia when the pandemic hit and all countries went into lockdown.
Goh admits that back in March when the first round of the movement control ordinance was passed, the company had no idea what to do. “All of our business was mostly done by foreigners, and when they stopped coming, our business was stopped. We had no income for a few months. “
So the company has cut costs, downsized the team and cut salaries in some cases by half. Different things were also tried to make money. “For example, we dared to deliver frozen food and set up our own GetFoodPlus.com platform. We also had our tour guides delivering groceries to customers, ”says Goh.
And as the company tried all of these different business areas, it slowly settled on its new business model. “We knew that the way to survive was through domestic tourism. In the three months leading up to the second surge, we were able to triple domestic tourism revenue compared to the days before Covid. Most of it was related to visiting museums or other local attractions, ”says Goh.
He points out that domestic tourism is a different ball game than international tourism. For starters, 96% of travelers prefer DIY (do-it-yourself) vacations rather than booking a tour package with one of the various agencies.
“This market is very large and, I can say, largely untapped. But there is a loophole where people who travel domestically do not know where to go. And the major platforms like TripAdvisor don’t offer enough domestic destinations. You can only find these on social media or travel blogs, ”he says.
For this reason, local tourists download articles or blog posts such as “The 10 Best Things to Do in Melaka”. “The problem with this is that they have the commercialized targets rather than the hidden gems,” Goh notes.
To solve this problem, there was no need to build a better app. It was about getting better content. “We believed that travel content should be generated by travelers, not just bloggers. For this reason, we have expanded our app from the original version to a socially curated app that people can use to submit reviews or share their experiences from anywhere, ”says Goh.
In principle, Tourplus would like to create TripAdvisor or Dianping (TripAdvisor equivalent in China) in Southeast Asia.
He says that when travelers search for a particular retailer on TripAdvisor, they don’t see nearby attractions. “So most people will search Google to see if those other places have a rating. Instead, we have photos and videos that are shared by other people. We base our recommendations on your geographic location and personal preferences. “
The other benefit of this platform is that it is easy to upload a review. “People often complain that it is a hassle to post a review on TripAdvisor. That’s why we’ve made sure that our platform makes it very easy to upload a review and share your experiences. “
What about the risk of fake reviews? “We’re going to use certain algorithms based on different data points to make sure the checks are valid. We also have a feature that people can use to report reviews they think are incorrect. “
He says Tourplus is trying to help local retailers get discovered by travelers. “We want to convert more traffic online to offline. At the same time, we will be working with these institutions to run more promotions with our app. “