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.”