THE INC. LIFE

This Startup Wants to Solve Travel Pains in Southeast Asia

How trip planning app TravelerBuddy is making it happen.

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BY Ezra Ferraz - 05 Oct 2017

travel pains

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Though the intercity commuting may get all the attention due to the ride-sharing battles, Juerg Kaufmann, the CEO and founding partner of TravelerBuddy Group, Singapore, believes that domestic and international travel is overdue for disruption.

“As varied as current technology for traveling there may be, we realized there is not one single unifying platform that can sophisticatedly address the travel needs of and the difficulties encountered by business and frequent travelers,” Kaufmann says.

The platform aims to solve multiple pain points for travelers, including the lack of online access to travel documents; lack of timely notifications for flight delays, gate changes, and even country-specific entry requirements; time wasted on organizing and updating travel details; and difficulties in collecting invoices for expense reimbursement.

Perhaps the scope of TravelerBuddy is most evident in an examination of its user interface.  

“Different icons relevant to the specific trip information appear next to the itinerary to help the traveler sync their agenda, do an online check-in, perform a pre-travel check, or use the immigration assistant — an immigration form assistant to help fill up departure and arrival cards. The comprehensive auto-generated itineraries even attach original booking confirmations to ensure all necessary documents are handy for the traveler without having to print them out- making paperless travel (almost) real,” Kaufmann explains.

In addition to the above, business travelers have an expense assistant on TravelerBuddy through which they can attach invoices and receipts to an expense report and then export or forward that to the appropriate point person for processing or archiving.

Though the end-to-end platform is available globally, the company has a special focus on Asia Pacific, particularly in the Southeast Asian markets of Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines.

“APAC is the world’s biggest market for business travel, accounting for 38 percent of about $1 trillion in annual spending. Its importance will only grow, as the market, including travelers and infrastructure, is expected to expand four times as quickly as the North American market and more than twice as fast as the European market,” says Kaufmann, citing a McKinsey study titled “Cracking the world’s biggest business travel market.”  

Kaufmann adds that the APAC region is ideal because of its fast-growing, tech-savvy population that is comprised of both locals and expatriates. Travelers going between countries are also exposed to the country-specific entry requirements such as passport validity and visa, vaccination, and customs requirements that would make TravelerBuddy an attractive solution.

Kaufmann identifies this as the biggest challenge facing TravelerBuddy: Bringing their value proposition to potential users without heavy marketing spend. He credits Chief Marketing Officer Crystal Yaptinchay, who coordinates marketing activities such as their strategy on social media, with helping them succeed on this front.

“We apply a direct and digital marketing mix across paid, owned and earned media. We use AI technologies to optimize our marketing effectiveness and efficiency. The marketing strategy varies across our main segments B2C, B2B, and B2B2C with a clear focus on certain industries with high travel volumes,” he says.

Their product roadmap is also full of features that the company hopes will further simplify traveling, such as an online check-in that works for 400 airlines, mobile boarding passes, and adding travel risk-related features to their expense management assistant. “Fast, paperless immigration remains another hot topic for us, but given the complexity, it remains a long-term project,” Kaufmann shares.

Kaufmann also had plenty of advice for other entrepreneurs in Southeast Asia who may also want to get into the travel tech space.

“You need to fully understand the needs and pain points of your potential client. Price sensitivity in Southeast Asia is higher than in Europe or North America. And there are lots of differences among the SEA countries especially with regards to the technology and processes in place. SEA is not one single country — you need to focus on a few SEA countries and adapt your strategies accordingly,” he says.

Kaufmann even believes that SEA will be early adopters in the most exotic forms of travel tech.

“Classic travel agencies still play an important role for travel bookings for Generation X but not so much anymore for younger generations. Augmented reality, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence will take place in SEA sooner than in other regions, but each country has its own business eco-system,” he concludes.