Wilfred Fan, chief commercial officer of Klook, details how a pivot to hyper-local experiences has helped the travel OTA to ride through the pandemic, and why the domestic market cannot be overlooked
Klook just celebrated its eight birthday – congratulations! Looking back, are you happy with how far the company has come? Would you have done anything differently?
We have experienced the most challenging time in our history at the peak of the pandemic, and are finally seeing it in the rear-view mirror. We’re ecstatic to see that travel interest remains high, and that has helped contribute to our robust business performance as a testament to our strength and resilience of the industry.
We managed to pivot our business at the height of the pandemic by focusing on domestic travel with expanded local offerings, which has proven successful to date. We’ve just witnessed one of our strongest quarters with over 300 per cent quarter-on-quarter growth, even before North Asia reopened its borders, and have exceeded pre-pandemic revenue in many of our markets.
Where do you see Klook in the next five years?
As a travel and experiences platform, we see ourselves strengthening our expertise and diving deeper in the experiences space to bring joy to our customers. Through creating new things-to-do, exclusive Klook experiences, and curating interesting combinations, we aim to provide more holistic offerings for our customers.
As a technology platform, we’re also looking at building better integration for a more seamless experience. We’re investing in connectivity and expanding our team to better service travel operators in the region, strengthening our supply position to better serve our customers and distribution partners who work closely with us, such as Booking.com.
There’s talk about a recession next year. What challenges do you foresee in the near future?
One headwind we can expect in the longer term is a shift in international travel, especially given global inflation and fluctuating strengths of currencies. There is a wave of revenge travel happening right now, as many travellers are choosing to spend on trips as they’ve not travelled in the last few years due to the pandemic.
However, after this initial excitement, travel might be reined in gradually, with travellers perhaps looking towards closer and more affordable destinations instead of further locations. Within Asia, we’re still anticipating high cross-border travel, but it may decrease when we look beyond Asia.
We expect travellers to depend on us even more than before, especially when they look for value. We want to become their preferred end-to-end travel and leisure platform, with a seamless process of discovering and booking experiences for their trips.
What other partnerships is Klook working on currently, and what B2B efforts does Klook have up its sleeve?
We are not able to disclose any ongoing discussions until they are inked. However, we are constantly exploring partnership opportunities to enhance our verticals – in experiences, mobility and hotels – that will open new doors for our merchants and connect them with a wider customer base globally, such as through our partnership with Booking.com.
On the B2B front, our aim is to help merchants scale and transform their business more quickly through our network, in order to better capture the travel demand.
We have also been collaborating with tourism boards on multifaceted partnerships across various regions and markets. Among our most recent partnerships are those with the Singapore Tourism Board, Tourism Authority of Thailand, Korea Tourism Organization, and Tourism Australia.
How is Klook planning to gain more ground in the competitive OTA space?
We have introduced new platform features for our customers such as the re-engineered destination discovery feed powered by our repository of over seven million verified user reviews. This lets us have the ability to look into expanding into other verticals and build a full spectrum of services such as hotels, car rentals, and insurance for our travellers.
To let our customers achieve a more holistic travel experience, we also addressed every touch point in their journey. For example, we were the first travel player to introduce a full suite of travel-related insurance on a multi-market level, and provided one of the most extensive car rental and mobility product ranges across Asia-Pacific to support our customers’ travels.
How is Klook working to bridge the gap between merchants and consumers better?
We recognise that not all merchants can offer customer service in multiple languages around the clock, and we are here to bridge that gap and make the experience more seamless and convenient. During the past couple of years, due to improved efficiencies and automation, we have managed to improve customer service compared to pre-Covid levels.
We believe that there needs to be more education on the process, in order for the merchants to meet expectations and provide quality service across our destinations. We prioritise delivering this service based on rigorous standards, from screening merchants to curating activities and packages. We help and guide merchants who may struggle initially, and merchants who fail repeatedly will be delisted.
We also have boots on the ground, with our own Klook staff (Klookers) testing and reviewing these activities first-hand, to ensure that we can inspire and enable moments of joy for our customers.
What is Klook’s travel outlook for 2023?
Travel is looking to be in full force in 2023, given the recent reopenings in North Asia that are driving demand through the roof. We have seen heightened interest for destinations like Japan, where platform searches have steadily increased ever since the reopening announcements. We can already see buzz and excitement surrounding travel going into 2023, and there will be more to come.
Also, as we welcome cross-border travel back, we cannot forget about domestic tourism. It is definitely here to stay, and has opened up a new frontier for us to thrive in. Our efforts in domestic tourism have meant that beyond growing the variety of experiences for locals, we have also done the same for international tourists when they visit destinations. This focus on carving out these hyper-local activities line up with our strategy of using domestic travel as our second engine of growth, and develop this area alongside cross-border travel.