Achieving success within a decade may be considered fast or slow, depending on one’s expectations. As Klook celebrated its ninth anniversary in September, the travel booking platform announced that it had attained a total of US$3 billion in annualised gross booking value, a threefold increase in sales compared with 2019. But for its chief operating officer and co-founder Eric Gnock Fah, growth is still not up to speed.
As a business that relies completely on travel and tourism, Klook was gravely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic when all excursions and outdoor activities had to be suspended. Naturally, there were plenty of lessons to learn from the global crisis.
“We did not have domestic travel [offerings] before and that’s why during the early days of the pandemic, we suffered badly because people could not fly overseas. We knew some places were open for travel within the country but we couldn’t tackle that until late 2021. In 2022, we started to shift our focus to [this area]. So now, it’s quite a balance between international and domestic travel,” Gnock Fah said during a media trip organised by Klook to Bangkok last month.
The company understood the public health crisis would not be the only setback for international travel. “There will always be hiccups here and there. It could be the pandemic, or political conflicts between countries that will make overseas trips impossible. That’s why we need to ensure we have a diverse revenue source. Luckily for us, we don’t have one market that contributes more than 10% to our business — if a particular market for whatever reason does not work out, the business can still do well.”
Now that tough times seem to be in the past, it is all about picking up the pace and catching up on lost potential. As soon as Klook rebounded, it kept moving at a full, steady speed and has not looked back since. New programmes and advanced technologies have been implemented to ensure a more seamless booking system.
As a venture that targets millennials and Gen Z — 70% of its consumers are aged between 25 and 35 — Klook completely understands the immense power of social media and technology.
“Social media has been the core of our business. We have been doing a lot of promotions on [various platforms] from day one,” Gnock Fah said.
With the passage of time, consumers and establishments now approach social media differently. Its functions are no longer limited to just spreading information and connecting friends and families living in different parts of the world. It has evolved into a money-making mechanism, “a conversion engine”.
The Hong Kong-founded company has introduced Klook Kreators, an influencer affiliate programme that underscores content created across eight applications, such as Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, Lemon8 and YouTube.
Klook has worked with more than 3,500 content creators, influencers and its KOL community who have produced over 10,000 social posts and garnered about 30 million views. Anyone can participate in this initiative as it requires only a minimum of 1,000 followers on a social media platform. They will be paid an attractive commission on every booking completed via a unique promo code.
“Our focus isn’t just on any content; it’s about diving deep into user-generated content that’s mobile-friendly, authentic and highly shareable — everything that ignites wanderlust and enhances travel experiences. As authenticity shapes the way we travel now, our aspiration is to build the world’s largest social travel community that facilitates exploration and discovery of destinations and experiences.
“When a creator comes on board and creates content, maybe he or she is micro KOL [between 10,000 and 50,000 followers]. For those who have potential, we will put in marketing dollars to help expand their network and followers. This obviously benefits both parties because there will be opportunities for conversion.
“Previously, people would just post things, and clients looked at the content and paid for advertising, without knowing if they could actually make a sale afterwards. These days, social media platforms have evolved to look at conversion. Thus, brands are able to track effectively. Now that we know this is the trend, we are taking the biggest step to expand what we were doing in the last eight years into a more established programme.”
Breathtaking photos and captivating videos are sure to attract customers to go places, but a seamless and straightforward system will determine whether they will add the experience to their cart and place a booking. Technology is not alien to the business, so a lot of improvement and advancement have been added to the equation for a smooth user experience on the Klook app and website over the years.
To commemorate its ninth birthday, the platform launched a new generative AI chatbot and trip planner called “K.AI”, short for Klook AI. This feature, which is part of the pre-booking stage of a customer’s journey, will be fully integrated into the “Things to do” activity page across eight different languages, catering to Klook’s various prospects in the Apac region.
“As we serve many countries, the generative AI will come in handy to break the language barrier and make the booking experience a lot more intuitive and seamless. It also helps with content generation for new merchants. Let’s say a Malaysian merchant is trying to onboard a new service. The AI will create captivating content that appeals to a broad range of customers.”
Sustainable travelling has also been the subject of conversation of late. What is Klook doing to help reduce the negative impact of tourism and increase its benefits instead?
“I wouldn’t say we’ve done a lot but we are taking baby steps by setting up a team that just focuses on sustainability. At the moment, we have chosen to highlight animal welfare and it will be our vision for the next two to three years.”
The company has refreshed its animal welfare policy and is taking a firmer stance in dealing with merchants who may cross the line in that respect.
“Of course, there is a process. We will sit down with the merchant, tell him/her our beliefs and the international standards for animal welfare, and if he/she is willing to change, we’ll work with them to make the change. But maybe, some are not able to make the switch as fast as we’d like due to the nature of their business. If that is the case, then, unfortunately, we would have to remove them from our platform,” Gnock Fah affirmed.
But there are certain experiences that can make necessary adjustments, and the lucrative elephant business in Thailand — which plays a big part in the country’s tourism — is one that Klook is looking to strike a deal with to ensure tourists can get near the animals while keeping the latter safe in the process.
“You don’t have to ride an elephant but maybe you can be in close contact with and feed it, without destroying its habitat. So, we can work with merchants to revamp their activities to include interactions without rides.”
There are many things in the pipeline that the fastest-growing booking platform in Asia-Pacific is working on. One of its recent projects revolves around entertainment tourism, already a big thing around the world. What is not to like about travelling to another country, immersing yourself in its culture and attending a concert there by your favourite celebrity at the same time? Killing two birds with one stone is always a good idea.
Klook scored big when it secured a partnership opportunity with US singer-songwriter Taylor Swift for the Southeast Asian leg of The Eras Tour, which will be held in Singapore next March. The package that went on sale in July included a pair of concert tickets and accommodation in four- and five-star hotels across the Lion City.
This, as one can already tell, was only the start of more exciting experiences.
“We are expecting the comeback of international mega events in the next few years. We will not only make it easy [for people to buy tickets], but also bundle different experiences and hotels together to provide the best deal for our users.”
What can we look forward to? The 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris and the 2025 World Expo in Osaka, Kansai, Japan, are certainly on the list, according to the Klook boys.
This article first appeared on Oct 30, 2023 in The Edge Malaysia.