Here's a riddle: If Traveloka sells lifestyle services and AirAsia is not just an airline, what is an online travel agency? The industry will have to coin a new term since everyone is starting to sell more than just flights and hotels. Any suggestions?
Southeast Asia’s online travel unicorn Traveloka has introduced tours and activities on its platform but beyond eyeing bookings from travelers, it is targeting the domestic market to book not just flights, hotels, and tours and activities, but everything that fulfills so-called lifestyle needs.
This includes food, beauty, spas, and movies.
The dawning of travel and services rather than tours and activities is here, potentially sending the acronym OTA to the rubbish heap as online travel agencies go beyond flights and hotels into tours and activities and now, lifestyle, as Traveloka has done.
Meanwhile, Southeast Asia’s biggest low-cost carrier AirAsia has relaunched its website and app as scheduled this week and it sure looks like an online travel agency, not the traditional airline website. Moreover, it too includes lifestyle offerings and, within this year, will start selling other airlines’ tickets.
As predicted by Skift in its Megatrends 2019, online travel agencies will be around a decade from now, but food, activities and rides will be a lot more important to them and the saplings of this future growth are already visible in 2019. All the major players are looking to capture travelers through the entire trip.
In Asia, however, as seen, Indonesia-based Traveloka has questioned who the traveler is and what constitutes a trip, resulting in an enlarged scope both in supply and demand for the sector and one that is clearly needed as there is generally little differentiation now in tours and activities offered by online travel agencies.
“Our definition of travel has shifted,” said Dannis Muhammad, Traveloka’s chief marketing officer, in an interview with Skift in Singapore.
“Before, it’s a trip from, say, Jakarta to Singapore. Then, a trip from Jakarta to Bandung, which is our second most popular journey after Bali. Now, if you go from your home in Jakarta to a nearby local mall, is that or is that not travel?
“To us, it is. It’s getting shorter and shorter. Our customers are saying, ‘I wish I could book this and that through Traveloka,’ and we are obliging.”
Food is a huge part of the new Traveloka “discovery” platform which has been rolled out only in Indonesia currently and offers Indonesians discounted restaurant vouchers, special deals for Traveloka’s credit card holders and inspiration on where to eat, with geotagging and user generated reviews. Local guests can discover the dining options in six to eight Indonesian cities including Jakarta, Bali, Bandung, Surabaya, Yogyakarta, Medan, Tangerang, and Bogor.
In Jakarta, for example, 80 percent of tenants in shopping malls that offer relevant lifestyle products and services are now bookable on Traveloka, according to Muhammad. The content is sourced through a combination of direct negotiations with vendors and partners, and third-party channels.
“Data shows the Indonesian travel market is worth $10 billion, online, and offline,” said Muhammad.
“But food is $50 billion.”
He added, “It’s so natural to have food and travel together. Before, it’s flight and hotel. Food and travel is the next category.”
Traveloka also makes huge promotions and marketing on its platform to entice locals to part with their dollars with it, unlike most other online travel agencies for which tours and activities is but an extra tab on the website, at least currently.
It dangles such sections as Ideas for the Weekend and Go Beyond, giving locals recommendations on how to spend the weekend in the neighborhood and incentivizing them to explore food, entertainment and attractions in Indonesian cities other than their own. An Events This Month enables them to check and book theatre shows, concerts, even a charity run or other sports.
“We want to enrich people’s life by empowering them to discover the world around them, which can be in their own neighborhood. We were empowered by the customers themselves; they were the ones who told us, ‘if only we can book this via Traveloka.’ Of course we don’t feature electronics goods or clothes for example,” he said.
According to Muhammad, tours and services is already Traveloka’s fastest-growing business” although he declined to share figures or reveal sales targets.
“Our ceiling is the number of Internet users. In Indonesia, it’s around 100 million. Southeast Asia has a population of over 600 million and 200 million have access to the Internet. If they have a problem we can solve, we want to be there,” he said.
Traveloka plans to launch its discovery platform in the other Southeast Asian cities it operates, i.e., Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam and Singapore, and Australia, which it entered recently in the next couple of years, he said. Currently, travelers from these markets are able to book its newly introduced tours and activities in the global destinations featured on the platform.
Differentiation, or the Lack of
An expanded scope in tours and activities by online travel agencies is needed.
“The conventional approach to tours and activities for online travel agencies, or other travel providers such as airlines, hotels or media sites, is to slap a perfunctory Things to Do tab on a website or app and pipe in listings from a third-party aggregator,” said Douglas Quinby, founder and CEO of Arival, which is bringing the tours & activities event to Asia from this year in Bangkok in June.
“But this provides no differentiation, and the perceived cross-sell advantage online travel agencies may have is a myth. The market is too competitive, there is a lot of discounting happening, especially in Asia, and it’s too easy for travelers to search on Google or other apps.”
The relaunched AirAsia.com, meanwhile, is unconventional for an airline.
Traditionally, airlines primarily sell their tickets and fare promotions on their website, also their own ancillaries such as extra baggage and other services such as airport transfers, car rentals and insurance. Some airlines have included tours and activities, for example Singapore Airlines which gets tours from Viator, but this is still not a key sell. In fact, one even has to search for it on Singapore Airlines’ website.
On AirAsia.com, flights is only one of six key tiles, with equal prominence given to hotels, holiday packages, activities, travel protection and duty-free shopping.
Click on activities and another four tiles appear, activities, lifestyle, hotels and flights. Click on lifestyle and choose one of the tiles, eat, beauty, massage, services, activities, kids, travel and fitness. Special deals, such as a nail pampering session, cash voucher deals, deals below $4 (RM15) are offered.
AirAsia appears to be using content from discount sites such as Fave (formerly Groupon) along with its own direct sourcing.
Soon, the website will enable customers to curate and book their own itinerary, be it for a holiday or how to spend the weekend in town, through a one-stop holiday planner.
In a digital world with a plethora of apps, it appears that online players are becoming a one-stop shop for lifestyle — including travel. Aside from having differentiated content and creative sales marketing, personalization is key. Like AirAsia, Traveloka is focusing on “our trove of data” and using artificial intelligence to provide personalized offerings to every customer.
“In future, online travel agencies will sell many things. We don’t have the [complete] visibility on it but we believe if you can understand the customer journey and make it seamless for them, we have a good chance of being trusted by the customer as their go-to,” said Muhammad.
But if online travel agencies, airlines, review sites, alternative accommodations all offer tours and activities, how will tour and activity players themselves fare in the future, especially smaller players like Triip.me in Vietnam who also has to battle with a new Asian unicorn, Klook, which has just received new funding from SoftBank?
Arival’s Quinby believes they have to create unique local offerings although, inevitably, some will be eaten up.
“There are some great examples of companies that have worked very hard to tailor their products to local markets, and created a competitive advantage. MyRealTrip [South Korea] and Veltra [Japan] are good examples. As well, Thrillophilia in India, and Civitatis in Spain and Latin America. There will inevitably be some consolidation, through acquisition and closures for sure,” he said.
Ha Lam, co-founder of Triip.me, believes the entry of other players such as online travel agencies into tours and activities, and the funding raised by Klook, aren’t a threat.
“There will be interesting opportunities for any company in this field. It proves that the market has enough potential and that travelers need the sector. For us we don’t see it a threat. The more competitors there are, the better we grow.”
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Photo credit: Traveloka headquarters in Jakarta, Indonesia. Traveloka