Selling to China via ‘social travel marketplace’, Singapore News & Top Stories – The Straits Times

A team of five Singaporeans has created an online platform for small travel service providers here and worldwide to sell directly to Chinese travellers.

It is led by Internet pioneer and serial entrepreneur Wong Toon King, 49; and former chief executive of financial solutions company Melioris Mak Chee Wah, 48.

They unveiled their plans last month for Wegogo, a “social travel marketplace” on social media platform WeChat.

Businesses can go to Wegogo to sign up for a free account, which will create a microsite on WeChat for them. They can then list their company information, products, contacts and promotions on it.

Upon registration, a QR code that links to the microsite will be generated, which they can use for their marketing collateral.

More than 3,000 providers both here and abroad have signed up thus far, including Raintr33 Hotel Singapore.

EMPOWER AND ENABLE

The Chinese don’t have Facebook or Instagram. What we want to do is empower (operators) to have the ability to talk to them socially. The next step is to enable the commerce.

WEGOGO CHAIRMAN WONG TOON KING, on the “social travel marketplace”.

The platform allows travel operators to tap into the Chinese travel market through WeChat – the most popular messaging app in China – without needing to invest heftily in marketing or IT, said Ms Reene Ho-Phang, 46, Wegogo’s strategic adviser.

She is also managing director of travel marketing and representation firm BrandStory. Also in the team are Mr Yue Yew Hoong, 48, and Mr Richard Tan Boon Piew, 48.

Wegogo chairman’s, Mr Wong, added: “The Chinese don’t have Facebook or Instagram. What we want to do is empower (operators) to have the ability to talk to them socially. The next step is to enable the commerce.”

WeChat supports payments and money transfer. It also has a micro-blogging function where users can post photos and video and share articles.

For a start, the team will highlight operators that offer “authentic local experiences” – for instance, a chilli crab-cooking lesson or home-dining service – through videos focused on people behind the business.

“We have seen a shift in Chinese traveller profiles from sightseeing and only visiting iconic attractions, to engaging in experience-seeking journeys across the world to learn different cultures and to immerse themselves locally,” said Mr Mak.

The team has ambitious plans to cater to the needs and wants of this burgeoning group of travellers.

In 2014, the Chinese made 109 million trips abroad, the United Nations World Tourism Organisation estimated. It predicts that this figure will hit 200 million by 2020.

Singapore, too, has been impacted by the growth. It welcomed 2.1 million Chinese visitors last year, up 22 per cent from the year before.

In future, the team hopes to build an artificial intelligence-based system that tracks online activities of Chinese consumers – what they search for, post and buy – to get a picture of what they want when planning trips.

The team will then match the consumers to the relevant travel service providers. Over time, the goal is to allow businesses to tailor products to match these needs.

“It’s a big idea and it takes time to evolve,” said Mr Wong, who led a group of private investors to back the venture with an angel funding of $500,000.

The idea for the start-up was inspired by the huge potential of the China market, said Mr Mak.

Ms Corina Chong, director of Raintr33 Hotel which opened in December 2014, said: “We all acknowledge that China is a huge market that we can’t ignore. For a relatively new hotel, we’ve reached the stage where we want to look at bigger markets like China. Wegogo gives us an avenue to do that.”

Source: Selling to China via ‘social travel marketplace’, Singapore News & Top Stories – The Straits Times

WEGOGO connects travel hosts with Chinese travellers on WeChat

A Singapore and Shanghai-based travel startup has created a business platform on WeChat to enable global tours operators and travel hosts to connect with mobile-savvy Chinese consumers.

Founded in January last year, WEGOGO has launched its services to businesses in Gili Islands and Singapore so far. It is slated to launch in China by the third quarter. Described as a “social discovery AI (artificial intelligence) travel platform for sophisticated Chinese travellers,” WEGOGO focuses on the use of AI to match users with relevant travel hosts, marketing their services directly to them. It uses contextual cues (such as a user’s search history) to model their unique ‘digital imprint’. This information can then help to predict what type of ‘experience’ a traveller is likely looking for. By doing so, WEGOGO hopes to connect smaller tour operators with the booming Chinese outbound travel market (with 200 million outbound travellers predicted by 2020).

“We’re trying to build a platform for understanding the Chinese traveller… anyone (an operator, a guide) should be able to tap into this and make yourself more relevant,” said Wong Toon King (TK), chairman of WEGOGO. It is an attempt to “level the playing field” between smaller operators and bigger players, as strategic advisor Reene Ho-Phang highlighted the reality that many local hosts do not have “the muscle and technology to aim at a global market”.

WEGOGO is backed by a group of private investors led by Wong, who is the managing director of FarSight Capital, and has provided the startup with US$500,000 in angel funding.

WEGOGO Platform | Startup | WIT

WEGOGO will not solely rely on AI to identify what users want. To address the shift in Chinese traveller preferences from being ‘destination-centric’ to ‘experiential tourism’, it will create video content to engage consumers on an emotional level.

Richard Tan Boon Piew, co-founder and COO, emphasised the importance of using storytelling to encourage consumers to go out and discover these unique places.

“We need to go in and find the story to tell… different operators can express their love for that they do. We’re trying to find gems, we don’t need a laundry list of operators.”

WEGOGO also has a “Pathfinders Programme” where bloggers and influencers share their experiences on the platform.

Registration is straightforward and free for travel hosts. Then they are issued a QR code that directs consumers to their micro-site.

Travel hosts can also take charge of their own marketing and promotions on WEGOGO, communicate with prospective customers directly, and conduct all payments online via WePay.

Therefore, virtually every stage of travel (with the exception of ‘experiencing’) can occur within the realm of WeChat.

WEGOGO earns a service fee from providers, but the initial sign up is free. They also use sponsored content.

One critical consideration is how WEGOGO plans to provide quality assurance and a sense of security for its customers, especially as the number of businesses on the platform increases.

Ho-Phang suggests that it can largely be left up to the operators who sign on to WEGOGO, as they are able to share tips and important information with customers before they travel. “This is their area [of expertise]…so they can inform travellers what to look out for.”

Mak believes that the existence of a rating and review system can help customers make their choices. “We can also give some providers WEGOGO verification,” Tan added.

While there are over 630 million users on WeChat (and counting) in China, one potential stumbling block could be how aware international travel hosts are of the social networking app in the first place, as WeChat has struggled in its efforts to go global.

Wong remains optimistic that hosts will readily adopt WeChat once they understand the benefits of WEGOGO for their business.

Source: WEGOGO connects travel hosts with Chinese travellers on WeChat