We celebrate these professionals who are pushing boundaries to ignite progress and innovation in the travel sector.
1. THUAN DAO
Thuan Dao has made it his mission to use technology to ease the tedious B2B booking processes. His solution? BedLinker.com, a B2B platform for buyers and sellers; BedAllocator.com, a booking engine software dubbed a “one-stop hotel chain platform”; and EZbookmeetings.com, a marketplace for MICE and business events.
2. ERIC GNOCK FAH
COO & co-founder, Klook
This young entrepreneur built an online booking platform for in-destination activities in 2014. Four years on, Klook is Asia’s first travel unicorn, digitising the products of offline travel operators with its mobile-first services – 75 per cent of bookings are made on mobile devices.
3. CHLOE CHAN
COO, +en Travel Envoys
+en Travel Envoys engages Envoys to market and sell tours under the Chan Brothers Travel roster, or FIT packages, to families and friends. Through +en, Chan has opened a new travel distribution channel for Chan Brothers Travel, reaching previously untapped customer segments.
4. ABDULLA GHIYAS
Founder, Premier Maldives
In the absence of a proper destination marketing plan by the authorities, Ghiyas guided the Maldives Association of Travel Agents and Tour Operators as former president to become the country’s de facto national tourism agency. He recently launched Premier Maldives, an eco-friendly and responsible tourism startup.
5. FAEEZ FADHLILLAH
CEO and co-founder, Tripfez
Fadhlilla pioneered the world’s first API for the distribution of Muslim-friendly amenities and services, and the first Umrah API for third party integration. He was a key mastermind behind last year’s merger of Tripfez with Holidayme, an UAE-based OTA dedicated to the rise of Muslim travellers.
6. CETIN SEKERCIOGLU
CEO and co-founder, Upgrading.cc
Sekercioglu birthed Upgrading.cc, an online platform that allows hotels and service apartments to promote ancillary offerings to guests with confirmed room reservations, giving operators a chance to improve revenue per available room.
7. VICHIT PRAKOBKOSOL
President, Association of Thai Travel Agents
Vichit has been credited for putting great efforts to restore the Chinese market after a Phuket tragedy killed 47 Chinese tourists last year. It is an important market for Thailand, bringing in some 10.5 million tourists in 2018, nearly a third of all visitors into the country.
8. JANE GOH
Director, Xperience Singapore Events & Travel
As tours with a local twist got popular, Goh vaulted into the activities space with offerings that pull the curtain back on lesser-known facets of Singapore such as Teochew opera and otter photography trail. Also known as “The Witty Guide”, Goh has more than a decade of guiding experience.
9. FLORIAN REUTER
Reuter’s Germany-based Volocopter wants to transform urban and inter-city travel with unmanned air taxis. After Dubai, Volocopter will begin taxi air trials in Singapore this year, and anticipates the first routes to be commercially launched in 2020-2021.
10. AMELIA AU
Managing director, Top Media Resources
Au set up Top Media Resources to help Malaysia’s travel industry reach out to new customers using social media and augmented reality (AR). She introduced AR at MATTA Fairs in Kuala Lumpur and is now developing applications using mixed reality.
11. NONI PURNOMO
CEO, Blue Bird Group, Indonesia
Noni has chosen to partner its competitor Go-Jek, adopting a hybrid model that combines taxi and ride-hailing services. The 47-year-old Blue Bird is the only company in Indonesia which allows bookings through telephone, via its My Blue Bird application and Go-Blue, part of the Go-Jek app.
12. THE AKILI BROTHERS
Anthony Akili, president and CEO; Bernard Akili, group chief marketing officer,
Brothers Anthony and Bernard Akili have been growing the company their father founded in 1976, expanding its offices and opening new ones. More innovations are brewing, said Bernard.
13. WONG SOON-HWA
Chairman, PATA Singapore chapter
The industry veteran launched Singapore Tourism Leaders Forum for association heads to meet and discuss pertinent issues in the local industry. Wong continues to encourage openness and innovation within the trade.
14. HEENA AKHTAR
Heena Akhtar’s TripXOXO currently curates over 100,000 products for activities and experiences that are focused on millennial travellers. Their products are available in multiple currencies, with payment facilities across all formats with a local and global help desk.
15. AA YAPTINCHAY
General manager, Kirschner Travel Manila; founder, Marine Wildlife Watch
AA Yaptinchay, a veterinarian and marine wildlife expert, advocates for marine biodiversity conservation in the Philippines. He helped craft the policy development to regulate interactions with protected marine wildlife, and developed a sustainable tourism framework.
16. KARNI TOMER
Founder & CEO, Wok ‘n’ Stroll Culinary Adventures
Israeli-born Karni Tomer, with her passion and culinary expertise, pioneered a range of innovative tours that delves into Singapore’s iconic food hubs, including Tiong Bahru Market, New Ubin Seafood and Tekka Market. She will soon introduce initiatives that feature The World’s 50 Best Restaurants.
17. RITESH AGARWAL
CEO & founder, Oyo Hotels & Homes
Under the leadership of Agarwal, Oyo Hotels & Homes has expanded to international markets. Launched in 2013, when Agarwal was 19 years old, Oyo has grown across 10 countries and some 500 cities. He launched Oyo Living, a rental housing product in India, and in Japan as Oyo Life.
18. WEERASAK KOWSURAT
Minister of tourism and sports, Thailand
Weerasak wants to enhance Thailand’s fundamentals to make it a quality destination, placing an emphasis on tourism revenue over numbers. “I want to improve the entire industry. Tourism is no longer seen as an economic driver, but it should be used as a tool to reduce inequality amongst people and communities,” he said.
19. NGUYEN THI HUONG LIEN
Founder, I Love Asia Tour
With just US$100 and a desire to promote her home city of Hue, 21-year-old student Nguyen Thi Huong Lien launched I Love Vietnam Tour, a female motorbike tour company.
She now employs more than 150 women and has expanded to other Vietnamese cities, Laos and soon in Siem Reap.
20. CYRUS PUN
CEO, Memories Group
Myanmar-based Memories Group launched on the Singapore Stock Exchange in January 2018 and has been on a shopping spree since, snapping up Balloons Over Bagan, Keinnara Hpa An and Burma Boating. It also launched Memories Travel. Pun is confident Memories’ sustainable approach to tourism will help drive arrivals to the country.
21. NGUYEN HUU TUAT
Founder and chairman, FastGo
Nguyen launched FastGo in 2018 in Vietnam. The car-hailing company now has almost 60,000 drivers across 10 provinces and cities – a much wider reach than region-wide Grab. It recently launched in Yangon and Singapore, and plans to enter Jakarta.
22. CAI YINZHOU
Founder, Geylang Adventures
Cai established Geylang Adventures to highlight Geylang’s colourful and conflicted history, as well as its complex identity in contemporary Singapore. He will soon branch out this concept to other lesser-known neighbourhoods in Singapore.
23. WUTTHIPHON TAWORNTAWAT
Managing director, Urban Hospitality Group
Wutthiphon manages a hotel chain that has invested 5.5 billion baht (US$177 million) in five hotels and mixed-use projects, with six more in the pipeline. “Bangkok offers great value for money, diversity and the friendliness of the locals will continue to create business opportunities for tourism,” he said.
24. FERRY UNADI
Ferry Unadi, together with friends Derianto Kusuma and Albert Zhang, launched Traveloka in 2012 as an air ticket aggregator and price comparison site, but has since added hotels, car rentals and attractions. The latest feature is Flight Status. The company has also recently expanded to South-east Asia, Bangalore (India) and Australia.
25. STAN TANG
Chairman, Stan Group
Tang ventured into the hotel sector by redeveloping industry buildings, and has converted four hotels so far. The group has 13 operating hotels, guesthouses and co-living spaces. The target is to reach 5,000 rooms by 2021.
26. CHRISTOPHER MARK AND SYED ASIM HUSSAIN
Co-founders and managing partners, Black Sheep Restaurants
The two partners have given women equal opportunities in a sector traditionally viewed as a boys’ club. Half of Black Sheep’s team of over 1,000 are women. “We find that women are a driving creative force in our restaurants and leaders in their respective fields. Gender does not play a part in the decision making,” said Mark.
27. MANUEL WU
Managing director, Macau Explorer
The lack of in-depth sightseeing tour experiences in Macau drove Wu, a former urban planner, to set up his own travel agency. “Tour guides rushing through tours without telling the story behind them was not doing the enclave’s 450-year history any justice,” he said. His pioneering company started with two routes, and today has expanded to five.
28. QUEENIE LAW
Co-founder, Aveener DMC
Singaporean Queenie Law saw Kazakstan’s great tourism potential and teamed up with university mate Kazakh Adilet Koichumanov to start a tour consultancy business. Aveener DMC has clients from South-east Asia, the US and Europe, and has a team of 15. Law plans to set up an eco-resort using renewable energy next.
29. PRASERT PRASARTTONG-OSOTH
Founder, Bangkok Airways and co-founder, Bangkok Hospital
Prasert has been playing an outsize role in the aviation and medical services in Thailand for decades. The group he leads is expanding hospitals and offering hospitality services. It is also looking beyond core businesses such as aircraft maintenance and duty free services.
30. RASHMI CHADHA
Chadha, a champion for women empowerment and employability, founded Wovoyage is a women-centric travel startup in India that has gone on to win multiple awards. To promote more secure and enjoyable travel in India, Chadha has incorporated a tech-enabled ecosystem.
31. VITANART VATHANAKUL
CEO, Royal Cliff Hotels Group
Under Vitanart’s lead, Pattaya-based Royal Cliff Hotels Group is positioning itself as a “destination” through the creation of its own lifestyle and sporting events, including through organising comedy festivals. Not only do these regional acts “promote the Asian community to the Asian market”, such events will also lend a hand in attracting families and luxury travellers to overturn Pattaya’s less savoury image.
32. ZELIA LEONG
Leong’s Anywhr sends travellers to an unnamed destination with a mystery itinerary only revealed at the airport. It plans and personalises the entire trip using data on the customer’s preferences. Anywhr has also collaborated with airlines to bring traffic and awareness to lesser-known destinations and attractions.
33. NADIEM MAKARIM
Nadiem set up Go-Jek to connect passengers to motorbike taxi service Ojek. From there, Go-Jek services grew to include go-car, food delivery, shopping, carwash, home cleaning and massage services. The company today has a valuation of US$10 billion, and currently operates in Thailand, Vietnam and Singapore.
34. MAY MYAT MON WIN
Chair, Myanmar Tourism Marketing
May is one of the most prominent faces in Myanmar tourism. Not only did she actively drive the new Myanmar Be Enchanted campaign, but she was also instrumental in forming the digital marketing taskforce and promoting the green season.
35. YUSNO YUNOS
CEO and founder, Evenesis Y Us
Yunos founded Evenesis Y Us in 2010 as a cloud-based event management system. Last year, the company launched the Evenesis Facial Recognition Technology software and will add an abstract management and business matching software next. It is also developing an emotion analysis session tracking software for organisers to check the emotions of their attendees.
36. AILEEN CLEMENTE
Chair and president, Rajah Travel
Clemente has helmed ASEANTA and Philippine Travel Agencies Association, and has also steered the 47-year-old Rajah Travel to offer online bookings. She also launched The Knowledge Center to address the industry’s need for information and, through the Travel Talk series in universities, tackles timely issues affecting the industry.
37. NARZALINA Z LIM
Co-founder, Asia Pacific Projects
Lim, a former tourism secretary, is a key principal of hospitality and tourism consultancy which she co-founded with her husband, Ludwig G Rieder. Lim helped craft a number of projects in the Philippines including the human resource development plan for tourism in Bohol, tourism plans for Iloilo and training of tour guides.
38. SIRADEJ DONAVANIK
Managing director, Asai Holdings
Siradej, the third generation of family-owned Dusit Group, has been leading Asai, a new brand catering to a young travellers. Under Siradej’s supervision, Asai brand has been offering travellers low affordable rates in major tourist destinations.
39. CATHY BRILLANTES-TURVIL
Founder and co-owner, Nurture Wellness Village
Brillantes-Turvill is the founder of Nurture Wellness Village which spreads traditional healing and massage methods, phytotherapy, conducts educational tours on medicinal plants and holds demonstrations on natural fertilisers and healthy cooking. She is also founding president of Spa Association of the Philippines.
40. PARAS LOOMBA
Founder, Global Himalayan, Expedition
Engineer Paras founded Global Himalayan Expedition to take travellers into rural villages in Ladakh region of northern India and provide them with access to energy using solar grids. His social enterprise has helped to provide electricity to 84 remote off-grid Himalayan villages with over 440 solar microgrids, while ensuring the preservation of their traditions and cultural heritage.
41. VANDONG THORN
Owner, Hanchey Eco Retreat
After spending 20 years as a Buddhist monk, Thorn is today a social entrepreneur, using tourism to empower marginalised youth in Kampong Cham. After successfully running a training restaurant in Kampong Cham centre, Vandong opened Hanchey Eco Retreat which serves as a training ground for the area’s underprivileged youngsters.
42. FAZAL BAHARDEEN
Founder and CEO, CrescentRating
Fazal launched CrescentRating for Muslim travellers. Since then, he has produced a string of halal travel brands and platforms, including the world’s first Muslim travel rating system and HalalTrip.com – a TripAdvisor of sorts for Muslims.
43. KATHERINE LO
Founder and president, Eaton Workshop
Lo was appointed president of Eaton in 2014. She birthed Eaton Workshop, a purpose-driven creative lab. The brand offers a hotel, co-working space, media platform and wellness centre at its properties, the first of which debuted in Washington DC with Hong Kong following.
44. LUCAS NUNAG
Chair, Bohol Provincial Tourism Council (PTC)
Retired lawyer Lucas Nunag was called to help Bohol after the 2013 earthquake. As PTC chair, he helped repackage Bohol into a community-based and sustainable ecotourism destination. Bohol has successfully opposed a coal-powered electric plant and hopes to thwart plans to build casinos.
45. SUPALUCK UMPUJH
Chairman and manager, The Mall Group
Nicknamed the ‘Iron Butterfly’, Supaluck led the Mall Group to a joint venture with AEG, the US-based sports and live entertainment company. It will put more than 10 billion baht (US$315 million) into two new arenas, EM Live and Bangkok Arena. The mega developments are expected to redefine the business, retail and entertainment scene in Bangkok, said the Thai retail queen.