THE INC. LIFE

This Start-up Lets Travelers Connect and Communicate Like Locals

handy wants to cash in on Southeast Asia’s rise as a luxury travel hub

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BY Ezra Ferraz - 28 Nov 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Everyone has experienced poor connectivity when traveling abroad, but how many people can say they leveraged this inconvenience to create a successful start-up?

Terence Kwok can. While on a family vacation in Europe in 2012, Kwok had to pay costly roaming fees and leech off spotty Wi-Fi. This incident made him wonder: “Why can’t I be connected like a local?”

Kwok founded Tink Labs in Hong Kong that same year to address this problem through their first product, handy. For hotel guests, it is a smartphone that they can use to make unlimited local and international calls and access the Internet, among others. For hotels, it is a platform that offers call-to-action features, a guest analytics package, and an integrated TripAdvisor guest feedback system.

Through handy, guests can make unlimited local and international calls, avail of the hotel’s in-room guest services, and even browse through customized city guides from LUXOS.

“The original goal was to create a seamless travel experience for travelers, but we realized that handy could be of value to hotels as a powerful channel of engagement and communication for promoting hotel offerings and services,” says Wong Yu Hsiang, managing director of Asia Pacific for Tink Labs.

However, convincing hotels to adopt the platform is no easy feat.

“The hospitality industry is utterly cost-conscious, especially facing emerging competitors in home-sharing. When we pitch to hotels, we have to prove to them that handy comes as a cost-efficient solution and an 'easy to integrate' tool for hoteliers, with the benefits of increasing revenue and guest engagement,” says Hsiang.

handy has been able to improve in engagement in some rather surprising ways. For example, guests can use the platform to review the hotel on TripAdvisor during their stay rather than when they get back home. Receiving reviews in real-time means that hotels get an opportunity to address any concerns or issues at once.

handy has improved partner hotels’ review ratings on TripAdvisor by an average of 0.31, which translates to a 3.4% increase in revenue per available room (RevPAR),” says Hsiang.

Hotels are paying attention. After servicing only limited markets such as Hong Kong, Singapore, and London following their 2012 launch, handy can now be found in over 40 countries, 70 cities, and 500,000 rooms. According to Hsiang, they have found particular success in Southeast Asia.

“In Singapore, the current market penetration rate is over 60% and renowned brands such as Fullerton, Intercontinental, Swissotel, and Resorts World Sentosa are some of the existing customers. In Southeast Asia, we are now in the midst of launching in hotels in Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia,” he says.

The region will be crucial to handy’s future. With a tourism growth rate of 8%, citing data from the World Economic Forum, Hsiang says Southeast Asia has transformed from a backpackers’ destination to a luxury travel hub for many business travelers and tourists.

Going forward, Tink Labs will continue to provide handy through leading hotel groups with 3- to 5-star hotels around the world. “We are opening new partnerships in Southeast Asia, as we currently work closely with our partners in Macau and the Singapore Tourism Board, to give guests the best travel experience,” Hsiang says.

Though handy has had amazing traction, they still have the usual growing pains. “It has always been challenging for us to recruit talents (both locally and globally) in a short time to support our global expansion, while at the same time maintaining the company culture and value,” Hsiang says.

Recruiting is important since the deployment of handy still has a significant human element — the company dedicates launch specialists to each hotel. Hsiang says they talk to front desk and operation staff to ensure that the experience between staff communication and guest experience is frictionless and painless.

Though Tink Labs is poised to become the first unicorn to emerge out of Hong Kong, Hsiang advises entrepreneurs who want to reach similar scale not to focus on valuation.

“Driving up our valuation isn’t our priority – being able to reset the bar for travellers worldwide with an incredible product is what we care most about. It’s certainly been amazing to see the value accorded to our work from investors; however, we see that as a byproduct rather than a primary driver of our work,” he says.