Not your usual .coms

These innovative start-ups are revolutionising the travel research and booking process, moving away from conventional OTA models. Linda Haden and Divya Kaul speak to their creators for a dose of inspiration



Date founded and by whom 2012. Tudor Coman (previously from RIM), Florian Cornu (background in banking), Shaw Chian Kuck (former software developer) and Venkatraman Dhamodaran (telecommunications field)

Description of the business A travel discovery service that lets users search for their next holiday destination within a specified budget utilising a fresh, easy-to-use visual format. Also enables users to share their newfound trip with contacts through Facebook.

Inspiration Users rely on search engines to find places then go to an OTA to fill out forms and go through price lists. We’ve created a visual answer to the age-old questions of ‘where can I go for my money’ and ‘where can I go to do activity X’.

Revenue model We run a meta-search model, collecting commission on referrals. There’s been significant B2B interest, however, as many other travel sites are looking to provide their users with additional functionality and new ways to search.

Success metrics At this early stage, virality ratios and user retention numbers are more important to us. Once we hit the goals for these metrics, then we can move towards new performance indicators such as volume and revenues.

Where most of the traffic comes from We have been predominantly marketing in Singapore, as that’s where our main traction lies. Currently, we are gathering data to move out of Singapore as quickly as possible.

Trade partnerships Agoda, AirAsia, Tiger Airways, Jetstar, Batavia Air, Kal Star and Merpati Airlines are our current partners, although we look to expand this further.

Under development We’re really excited about some of the new functionalites that we’re bringing in, but of course, I can’t go into detail. On the operations side, we are hiring a community manager and graphic designer.

I am/am not an OTA… Our interface is very different from the default set-up used by OTAs for the last 15 years, which seem to be trying to turn users into travel professionals. Flocations is a fresh way to travel.




Date founded and by whom 2009. Anshuman Bapna (previously from Google) and Prateek Sharma (an early employee at telecommunications company Tejas Networks)

Description of the business A global community of hundreds of travel freelancers who use our technology platform to answer questions from travellers, and a platform that pulls data (e.g. deals, hotels, blogs) from the best sites in the world to aid our guides.

Inspiration We think 90 per cent technology but 10 per cent human judgment is the right way to go. We radically simplify travel planning and give everyone a personal travel concierge. Our researchers give completely personalised answers.

Revenue model Users get to ask the first question for free. We then ask them to pay what they think is right after seeing the answer. In addition, they can pay per trip or take an annual plan. We also make money from ads and lead generation.

Success metrics We’ve planned over 25,000 trips to 100 different countries. We have almost 4,000 guides around the world.

Where most of the traffic comes from Thirty per cent comes from India, while 40 per cent comes from the US. Our traffic is growing 25 per cent month-on-month without spending a single dime on customer acquisition so far (mainly through SEO and word of mouth).

Trade partnerships We’ve partnered with Expedia, Agoda, Viator, MakeMyTrip and hundreds of other travel companies as an affiliate. This allows us to fulfill our travellers’ booking needs. We’re actively looking to work with tourism boards.

Under development We’re building something very innovative that is still under wraps at – expect it to launch in August.

I am/am not an OTA… We don’t see ourselves as an OTA; instead, as a layer of trust on all the innovative services that have come up in travel in the past decade. We combine the high touch of a travel consultant with the enormous power of the Web.




Date founded and by whom 2011. Steven Gong (formerly of Wego and Circos Brand Karma)

Description of the business A members-only flash sales site, offering luxury boutique properties within APAC. Applications are screened based on specific criteria. Unlike typical voucher sites, there is a real-time booking engine for instant confirmation.

Inspiration It stemmed from a personal problem. I love luxury and boutique hotels and discovering hidden gems around the world, but there weren’t many sites that could help. There was certainly a gap in Asia for a luxury online travel brand.

Revenue model We operate a bit like a conventional OTA, earning commissions from each reservation that we take. Membership is completely free. Members can invite their friends, although there’s no guarantee that they will be able to join.

Success metrics We look first and foremost at our revenue stream, the size of our membership base and the number of bookings generated.

Where most of the traffic comes from Most of our customer base is concentrated in the APAC region.

Trade partnerships Presently, we deal exclusively with the hotels featured on our site.

Under development Hopefully, in the next couple of months, we will be able to unveil our retail product: we will be selling selected hotels all year round, instead of just two weeks at a time as we do now.

I am/am not an OTA… We are a private sales site that features only selected hotels to an exclusive set of customers in a closed environment. We are distinct from an OTA in terms of how we generate sales.




Date founded and by whom 2011, but site was only rolled out in July 2012. Turochas Fuad (previously from Skype) and Prashant Kirtane (formerly of Yahoo)

Description of the business A platform for private property owners in APAC to market their properties to an international audience in a secure environment. We offer travellers the opportunity to book accommodation where they can ‘live like a local’.

Inspiration There’s been a growing need for an online solution that facilitates the so-called social economy. None have been specifically designed for APAC. We aim to become the largest provider of social stays in the region.

Revenue model Commissions earned from property owners or hosts, and service fees charged to guests when they make bookings. Hosts list their properties for free, with travelmob providing the marketing know-how and tools.

Success metrics The size of our audience, and the number of listings and bookings are our main metrics.

Where most of the traffic comes from Our bookings come from virtually anywhere, with a rough mix of 70 per cent from outside APAC. We tend to attract a younger demographic, and they book a wide spectrum of properties, from budget to luxurious.

Trade partnerships None specifically at the moment, but we are in talks with a range of travel-related suppliers such as spas, transport companies and tour providers to provide more enriching experiences for travellers.

Under development South-east Asia is our starting point, but we are hoping to make inroads elsewhere in Asia. We plan to fill the gap (in the social-stay market) by developing Asian-language sites and by using Asian currencies.

I am/am not an OTA… We do not see ourselves as an OTA. travelmob is an online marketplace for social stays, connecting property owners and potential guests in a transparent, seamless and secure manner.




Date founded and by whom 2011. Chuang Pei-Han (previously from HSBC), Leong Jiayong and Clement Tan (both worked at Singapore’s Defence Science and Technology Agency)

Description of the business Qitto, which stands for Quick, Interesting, Interactive Travel Organizer, allows users to document and share potential attractions and venues through pictures. We are the first Asia-based interactive online travel planner.

Inspiration Qiito was designed to make trip planning a hassle-free process. There is a growing trend among travellers to seek bespoke itineraries. However, the amount of information available on the Web can be daunting to consolidate.

Revenue model We believe revenue will be generated from streamlining the information flow of the travel industry. In the near future, we might accept bookings on the behalf of airlines and accommodation providers. We are also exploring ad opportunities.

Success metrics Our success is measured based on the usage duration and frequency of visits to our website. We also benchmark our performance against our competitors in terms of usability, features and resources.

Where most of the traffic comes from The bulk is derived from Singapore, although we are receiving significant demand from Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, the US and India as well.

Trade partnerships Qiito has been working with the Taiwan Tourism Bureau for almost half a year, showcasing Taiwan’s attractions and sights on our website. This tie-up has been successful so far.

Under development We intend to strengthen our presence in South-east Asia first. With a timeframe of three months each, we will target various countries and user groups. We want to launch a Mandarin website and set up an office/partnership in China in the future.

I am/am not an OTA… We do not see ourselves as an OTA because we do not plan trips or sell any packages. Users pick up information that interests them and build a travelogue. They are able to modify an existing one or build from scratch.

This article was first published in TTG Asia, August 10, 2012, on page 10. To read more, please view our digital edition or click here to subscribe.

Additional reporting from Divya Kaul

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