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Editor’s Note: Gateway is a Skift series featuring first-hand, original stories from our correspondents embedded in cities around the world. The logo reflects where the correspondent is based and not necessarily the article’s focus. Read about the series here.
Travel activities booking platform Klook, which recently took on Goldman Sachs as a new investor, will open an office in the U.S. after sensing a rising tide of Asian independent travelers to the U.S., Canada, and Latin America.
Klook plans on having a U.S. team operational from January in either San Francisco or New York. The team will source travel activities in the Americas that fit Asian travelers’ interests, and ramp up outbound marketing.
Klook’s president and co-founder Eric Gnock Fah would not go into details on how big the team will be, only saying “the U.S. market is so dynamic, our local team will be moving rapidly and work in an agile way.”
“We hope to create a notable impact to both activity providers and travelers in the U.S. by the end of 2018,” he added. “Our [Asian] travelers will start to see more diverse offerings in the Americas from the end of Q1 in 2018.”
The company also aims to tap the U.S. market heading to Asia. Klook currently has offices in 13 cities including its headquarters in Hong Kong.
‘RIGHT TIMING FOR THE AMERICAS’
Klook is entering a market ruled by giants like TripAdvisor-owned Viator and Expedia, but Gnock Fah believes the timing is right for Klook to expand.
The Series C funding of nearly $60 million led by Goldman Sachs should help open doors for a U.S. expansion. After amassing over nine million visitors each month to its website and app since launching in 2014, Klook wants to open doors for U.S. travel providers to reach the fast-growing Asian market.
Klook’s success in Asia has hinged on helping Asian travelers book services at the last minute or upon arrival in destination. These include local transportation, Wi-Fi, single-day tours, outdoor excursions, and food and dining options. Other platforms often require users to book more than 24 hours in advance and don’t offer a best-price guarantee.
As Asia’s largest in-destination travel activities booking platform, Klook’s goal is to help U.S. travel providers tap into the fastest-growing travel markets in the world like Greater China, South Korea, Indonesia, and Thailand.
BUT DON’T THE LIKES OF VIATOR and EXPEDIA DO THAT ALREADY?
There’s a gap where U.S. travel companies “are unable to effectively reach out to users in Asia-Pacific region,” according to Gnock Fah.
While the U.S. has vibrant resources in terms of travel partners, and many popular destinations for many Asian travelers, Gnock Fah said there is a lack of experiences tailored for the Asian market.
A deeper understanding of the home market is where he thinks Klook can make a difference for travelers.
“On the supply side, it will be our priority to find service providers who are able to adapt to the diverse Asian traveller interests,” said Gnock Fah of his strategy. “It will be our priority to find partners who are able to adapt to accommodate the varying languages, socio-economic levels, payment channels, and dietary restrictions of Asian travelers.”
At a glance, it may seem that Asia’s outbound travel market, estimated at over 180 million travelers per year, is distributed rather evenly, with mainland China taking up 37 percent, the rest of North Asia totalling 31 percent, and Southeast Asia and India at 32 percent. Gnock Fah points out, however, that Asia isn’t homogenous; it consists of numerous markets with their own distinctive languages, cultures, and religions.
“There isn’t one formula that fits all as each country comes with its unique travel preferences and purchasing behavior,” he said. “We foresee we may spend more time to help enhance U.S. operators’ understanding of Asia including knowing the priority of which market to target for their offerings.
“Since our launch in 2014, we’ve seen success in forming merchant partnerships in Asia. Our team has helped merchant partners to successfully tap into markets they knew little about by leveraging Klook’s expertise of Asian travelers. We hope to ensure that merchants in U.S. will also have the chance to take advantage of Klook’s market knowledge and tech solutions to diversify and optimize their revenue source.”
THE U.S. OUTBOUND OPPORTUNITY
Gnock Fah believes its strong supply network and exclusive benefits from direct partnerships will give it an edge for U.S. travelers headed to Asia. As of October 25, it claimed over 30,000 attractions, tours, activities, and essential travel services offered in more than 120 destinations, with over 3,000 industry partners.
Upcoming international events like Winter Olympics and Summer Olympics held in South Korea and Japan in 2018 and 2020, respectively, pose another opportunity.
“We are expecting a further influx of travelers from the Western countries into Asia,” said Gnock Fah. “As Asia’s largest in-destination travel activity booking platform, we hope to attract these travelers with our wide variety of activities in Asia and our user experience is also designed for native English speakers.”
Klook is also cementing its mobile-first and instant confirmation solutions, and creating personalized experiences through artificial intelligence tools since demand for spontaneous travel will keep growing. Its statistics show that 50 percent of users book Klook upon arrival, and 70 percent of those bookings are made via mobile.
The company is investing in voice search technology along with personalized experiences for users. Some of these features will likely be rolled out by mid-2018.