Launching a global travel application may sound like a counterintuitive business strategy during the coronavirus pandemic. But the current virus outbreak is exactly what prompted Asian travel industry veteran Patee Sarasin, the former chief executive of Thai budget carrier NokAir, to bring forward the expansion plans for his travel outfit.

Unveiling the app in a Facebook Live virtual event this week, Sarasin said he sees an opportunity for Really Really Cool, a travel experiences firm he founded in 2018, to achieve its aim of being part of global travel suppliers’ business continuity plans in the post-coronavirus world.

The global app was already in the works for the past two years, but its rollout was expedited by the onslaught of the deepening crisis, Sarasin shared. Kickstarting the app in the thick of the coronavirus crisis is part of his bigger intention to “open up the app to small and medium enterprises around the world and to trigger other OTAs and business provider platforms to help them,” he added.

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“The virus is not going to be here forever, but a lot of people will suffer meanwhile, especially the small and medium enterprises,” he said. “What we want to assure them is that when this crisis is over, there is a route for them to succeed, and Really Really Cool hopes to play a small part in making this possible.”

Asia’s tours and activities sector, which has lagged behind in the digitalization wave, has been hard-hit by the coronavirus outbreak when China stopped outbound group tours from heading overseas since late January.

“We’re not trying to sell anything at all at the moment. It’s not about making money but to promote hope in the travel industry,” said Sarasin, urging travel suppliers around the world to use the current business downtime to plan for their recovery and submit their services and products to the travel firm for consideration of inclusion on the app.

Travel suppliers will not be charged a fee to place their products on the Really Really Cool app, which already lists more than 500,000 products and services across 150 cities worldwide. The platform is based on a revenue share model rather than charging entrance fees on travel suppliers, according to Sarasin.

The app uses data like geolocation, time, weather, and flight information; and applies algorithms to combine it with other information including previous purchases and ratings, while cross analyzing it with other similar users to recommend the best products and experience.

Machine learning, said Sarasin, will be the greatest differentiator of the app from other online tours and activities platforms like Expedia, TripAdvisor or Trip.com, which according to him function more like metasearch engines and hotel and air ticket bookings sites than purveyors of unique local experiences.

What the crisis would not diminish is the value of experiences, which will continue to drive opportunities in the recovery stage, he added. “Everyone yearns for experiences even when staying at home.”

However, Sarasin believes that he coronavirus pandemic will be “a game-changer” for the travel industry, as consumer behavior will inevitably be affected and altered by the virus outbreak.

Already, millions of people around the world had to make swift major adjustments to their lifestyles, turning to the online world to learn and conduct meetings and e-commerce channels to shop for food and groceries as they take refuge from the virus outbreak by staying at home.

“The crisis has enabled us to understand the changes in consumer behavior. Travel is no longer from A to B, but A to A,” Sarasin stated, as he foresees people spending more time online as the coronavirus crisis drags on.

With social distancing likely to be the norm for the foreseeable future, Sarasin and his team are already stepping up their work to incorporate, in the time frame of “less than a month”, the next level of technology into the app to provide food and grocery delivery services.

For now, the former airline executive simply wants travelers and industry members to stay put where they are. “Stay safe and stay home,” he urged.

Photo Credit: Really Really Cool's CEO Patee Sarasin and chief commercial officer Pinyot Pibulsonggram at the Facebook Live launch of the global app. Really Really Cool