For Klook, the fast-growing tours and activities app growth beyond its South East Asian home is all about how it can offer users the most relevant product and best experiences possible.
Having achieved a valuation of $1 billion after raising $425 million in Series D funding, including $250 million from Softbank’s Vision Fund, the brand has plenty of people betting big on its future.
Speaking to Travolution at last week’s Web in Travel conference in Singapore, chief commercial officer Wilfred Fan, says growth is being driven by an offline ‘boots on the ground’ approach.
Hong Kong-based Klook employs over 100 people sourcing product in what is travel’s one remaining unaggregated market consisting of hundreds of thousands of local businesses providing experiences.
“This is a very human touch business,” says Fan, “doing things by email does not really cut it. We go to the source, to the people managing the tour guides. We don’t want to go through an aggregator.”
Since being founded in 2014, Klook has built its business offering product to outbound Chinese travellers but as its reach in destination markets grows it can start targeting the outbound market.
In countries where it Klook is heavily embedded the app aims to a provide seamless in-destination experience for its users whether they are booking a train journey or tickets for a theme park.
“Our ambition is really when someone thinks about travel, they come to us as a platform,” says Fan “We are constantly offering more and more services to see what’s important for our customers.”
An example of new product areas Klook has moved in to is restaurant table bookings which were added last year in select markets.
“Feedback has been really positive. Transaction growth has been impressive,” claims Fan.
Infrequent bookings for product like theme parks and tours are important, but it is by offering higher frequency sectors, like transport and dining, that Klook will become an essential brand for its users.
So, what is Klook’s main challenge when trying to find growth in new markets?
“Typically, it’s finding the right talent in each of the markets,” says Fan. “That’s the hard part in places like Cambodia that are emerging.
“We believe in local talent, but the talent pool in some markets is limited. We still need someone to be able to communicate in English to a certain fluency.
“And we need a certain understanding of ecommerce. That’s very hard to find in some developing markets.”
Klook hasn’t attracted the sort of investment, and accompanying digital unicorn status, it has by having the ambition to be the tours and activities category leader just in APAC.
With a large part of Asia covered on both the supply and demand sides, it announced its arrival in the European market last year with its first appearance at World Travel Market in London.
Fan said the UK is a key B-C market it believes it can target, not just from an inbound perspective but also outbound and it is working on ensuring it has the right product range available.
Asked when the UK consumers can expect to see a concerted push of the Klook brand, Fan said: “It really depends on when our product and service level is up there.
“UK consumers are not very forgiving. Once you do not deliver on what you promise you are out. With social media negative feedback spreads quickly.”
Fan said Klook is working on securing product in core outbound markets like Spain, Portugal and Turkey. It is getting “some traction” in the first two, but there remains work to do in Turkey.
Klook needs to have “reasonable coverage” and also to ensure that supply is instantly confirmable online and in the app, says Fan.
Currently, 90% of Klook’s product is instantly confirmable but it aims ultimately to get that up to 100%.
In non-core markets where Klook is unlikely to establish a presence for some time, it has a B2B strategy with a business development team pushing distribution through API connectivity.
Fan said the tours and activities sector is still “in its infancy” with the value of the online sector globally accounting for only around 4% of the total.
“There is a long way to go,” says Fan. “We have a pretty big team on the ground and all they are doing is talking to, emailing and faxing operators to confirm transactions.
“You have all these mom and pop tour guides doing everything they can with limited resources, we just have to bridge the gap.
“We have the economies of scale to service them and they get customer from around the world from us.”