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The Changing Face of Startups in APAC

October 28, 2014


The 4th Annual WIT Bootcamp was so overflowing they had to change venues at the last minute to accommodate the additional people attending. As WIT is now celebrating its 10th Birthday it is relevant to reflect on the changing face of startups in Travel in Asia.

Speaking with several of the attendees, speakers and pitchmen during the sessions – I was impressed with the maturity and the focus on the important elements of what will make a success of their business. From the audience there were a number of investors on the hunt for good startups. A happy marriage one would hope. However let’s not get all soft and gooey about it. I am sure that many wil write about the detailed nature of the individual pitches being made and winners (or losers). You will be able to follow that on #WIT2014. My focus here is on the underlying current of the startup world.

Asia has matured and evolved from being the wide eyed follower to the pragmatic – where should the local investment community be spending their money and the business areas to be followed?

Allow me to start with some of the silly things.

If I see another Taxi hailing app – I think I will probably puke. The very idea of having a taxi app that gets you a taxi tells me several things.

  1. The Taxi companies have been woefully inadequate.
  2. There is not enough money in taxis to make a living off the hailing app.
  3. There will be a race to the bottom in price.
  4. Investors can be really stupid.

it seems that everyone in the investor community needs to have 2 things to be hip and cool. A home-stay app and a taxi hailing app.

Fortunately on the positive side – I see some real appreciation for the challenges (and opportunities) to use the cash floating around Asia to good use. Here are some areas I see startup entrepreneurs looking at.

Air Search, Planning and Booking.

Yes that old chestnut. its STILL not done well and there is still a lot of opportunity to address better ways of servicing the customers

Hotel Search, Planning and Booking

Surprising with all the possibilities this is not really well done. The plethora of Hotel booking apps just shows how bad the back ends must be.

Travel Planning.

Sadly I think some still believe that there is money in pursuing the passion. Let me set your mind straight here. There is NO MONEY in Travel Planning. But please keep these ideas coming its a lot of fun to see them

Local Activities.

Darn it… why can’t we get this right? Surely Viator is not the only answer. I think there is a lot of work to be done here and with each variation a clearer picture emerges. But there are no winners here and there are a LOT of pretenders.

Non-Air Transportation

During the WIT Startup pitches – I counted 4 times that Rome2Rio was mentioned. Clearly the Australian company led by Viator’s founder – Rod Cuthbert – has found the right niche and this is a really valuable piece of kit. As a long time map/Geo-spatial aficionado – I am really pleased to see this get handled right. The ground transportation market still suffers a great deal. Too many options and too little scale. I think there are nice ideas out there. Rome2Rio can power a lot. Will there be a clear winner? The jury is still out.

So Timothy is there still a place for some smarts outside of this group?

Actually I am glad you asked. I see that we have a really tough challenge in the financial settlement and fulfillment process. In the APAC region ApplePay is not going to be that solution for a while if ever. Regulatory confusion and conflict is holding things back particularly in the cross border world of international travel.

I hope that by next year’s WIT Bootcamp I will see players working on this


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