The Travel Industry Will Never Be the Same Again


WIT Indie, the latest edition of Web in Travel (WIT), Asia’s leading digital travel media and events platform, was held on April 13 at Penang Institute. Organised by founder Yeoh Siew Hoon, the event drew a sizeable crowd of independents, creatives and small-to-medium-size businesses to share best practices, learn and network. Local entrepreneurs were also invited to speak on the importance of tech capitalisation in building sustainable businesses, and offer tips on harnessing its power to their advantage.

Building Communities Through Events

Yeap Mei Yi, general manager of Peatix, Malaysia, a global mobile ticketing platform, is responsible for building the company whose idea is to empower independent event organisers in the creating of unique experiences, and cultivating vibrant Peatix communities in tech, the arts, music and lifestyle.1

Yeoh Siew Hoon, founder of Web in Travel (WIT).

“ ‘Community ’ is at the heart of everything that we do, and that’s the primary reason why we want independent event organisers to have a following,” says Yeap. “Oftentimes, these organisers struggle to keep event goers updated on the running of their events due to dismal online engagement. The process was imperfect as the ticketing, event and online engagements were separated. By creating a community, we are attempting to create a brand for them. For example, when a ticket is purchased, event goers would automatically follow the organiser’s group on Peatix. And whenever a new event is published on the platform, they’ll be the first to be notified of it.”

Peatix aims to diversify the sales channel of the markets they’ve been entering. “We’re very interested in enabling creatives to achieve their full potential. By going online, it’s time-saving and the cost of setting up is so little. We don’t charge organisers anything unless they’ve managed to sell tickets, in which case a transaction fee is paid to us.”

Yeap says that for businesses to remain relevant in today’s “attention economy”, the key is to build a strong, authentic community around them. “Urban Sketchers is a great example of this. The moment an event is launched, the tickets are snatched up like hot cakes. It’s not because it is a once in a lifetime event; rather, it is community-driven. That in itself fuels the demand, and the experience feeds the community. To link this to the travel industry, travellers are always looking for unique experiences in which to immerse themselves. Peatix personifies community-generated experiences, i.e. localised indie events. So, if that’s what a traveller is looking for, then Peatix is the place to find it.”

Supporting Ethical Businesses and Brands

Yap Mun Ching is the executive director of AirAsia Foundation, the philanthropic arm of AirAsia Group. Through its initiative, Destination: GOOD, it provides support and funding for social entrepreneurs to develop ethically defined programmes benefiting community-based tourism industries, among others, and leverage on products and services these generate, to help make AirAsia’s core business sustainable, fair and inclusive.

One such project is Soksabike Tours in Battambang, Cambodia. Established in 2010 by local initiative Kinyei, the social enterprise began training local youths as cultural and educational bicycle tour guides to introduce local trades such as rice paper-making, complete with interesting social commentaries about the traders’ backgrounds, to tourists. “I thought that was fantastic. That is exactly what we want visitors to experience – to get to know a little bit more about the people and place, and what makes them special,” says Yap.

To elevate its profile to reach new markets, Soksabike was awarded a social enterprise grant to expand its business through four areas: developing new walk and cycle trails themed on Battambang’s Buddhist art history and French colonial architecture; enhancing guide training to include first aid and field visits to similar sustainable travel initiatives in Cambodia; launching a new marketing campaign targeting online and offline channels; and repairing its current bike fleet and improving safety elements, including adding new safety helmets and bike lights.

These measures aim to increase the income of current guides and participating households through a higher number of visitors, and enable new graduates to be trained and employed as additional part-time guides.2 “Through the grant, we’re also using the content of Soksabike as an alternative way to market the destination, to integrate these projects in AirAsia’s core business.”

Yap says the one misconception about marketing is that everyone thinks the silver bullet is social media. “For example, Facebook has squeezed everything down to barely any exposure unless one is paying a lot of money for marketing and advertising. And even if you are paying, you’ll receive ‘click farm’ types of responses. Unless you have active engagement with the followers you have been gradually building, in that people know you and your brand personally and will engage in your posts, resulting in high like and exposure rates, then you may not get very far. This is what most entrepreneurs typically forget when trying to build a social enterprise in tourism around ethical products.”

Policymakers are also lagging behind in creating platforms to encourage entrepreneurs and stakeholders in the travel industry to create community tourism  experiences, she says. “If you’re registered as an NGO, you can’t run it as a social enterprise. And if you’re registered as a business, you don’t qualify for government support. There’s no middle ground.”

Jack Tan sharing tips and tricks of the trade.

Tech Woes Be Gone

Want to go head-to-head with giant hotel conglomerates, but not sure how to? Jack Tan of IdeaWeaver Consulting shares tried-and-tested tips on how independent hoteliers can step up their game. Tip one involves creating a website and being mobile responsive. “Independent hoteliers must also be alert for promotions and rate parity. A major faux pas is to have a promotional rate for your hotel on your website which is higher than what the online travel agency is selling; which leads me to tip three: make your hotel Instagrammable. Be creative in designing the look and feel of your hotel, and people will start creating free press for you.”

However, Tan cautions hoteliers to not be overly ambitious: “Don’t start creating mobile apps for your hotels just yet, not when you’re still establishing your brand. People might not download or use it, and unnecessary expenditure will only be incurred for its promotion and to keep up with the OS changes.

“That said, take advantage of the technology currently available in your hotel. Take the Wi-Fi log-in screens for example – use that space to promote your facilities: the bar, spa, room service, whatever activities that provides ancillary revenues. Invest in a master controller for every room and if possible, use robotics for cleaning and room deliveries. It’s gimmicky, but it is what generates a lot of media attention for your hotel. Then, you will have a reason to create a mobile app for your hotel.”

Tan also urges hoteliers to experiment with augmented reality instead of virtual reality. “There’s more function to it. Information can be layered on top of existing images. Can you imagine coming out of your hotel in Penang, and it points you to all the interesting sites to visit? Now, that’s value. Lastly, provide excellent customer service.”
Regina Hoo is a Broadcasting and Journalism graduate from the University of Wolverhampton.

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