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HongKongEcho: The tech in travel

Travel may be at a standstill, but Hong Kong-based platform Klook is not. The thoroughly data-driven tech unicorn is riding the momentum of recovery despite the challenges.


A wall carved in the shape of an airplane’s fuselage. Meeting rooms named after major global airports. Notice boards that mimic departure and arrival screens. These are just some of the travel-themed touches scattered throughout booking platform Klook’s headquarters in Central.

We can’t help but feeling a pang of nostalgia as Percy Kwan, Marketing Director of the Softbank and Sequoia Capital-backed firm, gives us the guided tour. She’s the first to admit that the pandemic has challenged travel operators like never before. But she says the Hong Kong-based organisation, which gained unicorn status in 2018 after its value exceeded US$1 billion, is better prepared than most for a digital future.

“We’re a tech travel company, not a travel tech company. The difference might sound subtle, but whereas a lot of traditional players have had to undergo intense digitalisation in recent years, we have always had technology as our backbone,” she says.



Daily dashboards


At the heart of this tech is data. “Even before the pandemic, data was very much at the forefront of how we work. We have something like 100 different data dashboards that we use to monitor day-to-day performance in real time – we regularly start our day by reviewing these data points.”

Typically, the bulk of Klook’s activity has focused on outbound travellers – Hong Kongers jetting off on holidays around the region looking for hotel deals, affordable attractions, and other special deals. Meanwhile, the Hong Kong market and its local leisure activities received far more modest attention.

As the pandemic set in, Klook had to reverse the balance and focus instead on the small, highly competitive local market. Trying to put their finger on the pulse of consumer behaviour has been a primary concern for Kwan.

“Structurally, we weren’t really set up to share data between certain teams, for example those that would focus on travellers coming in and those catering for travellers going out. Previously, they wouldn’t never need to interact – whereas today they’re working very closely. So, we have had to bring down a lot of these barriers.” 



Making it work


Surveys on staycations have become the norm as her team seeks to track customer behaviour – the majority of which are millennials in their twenties – in order to best plan future offers. “There are two sides to this. One is what the customer needs, the other is what our merchants need,” she says. Consumers remain incredibly price sensitive in this period, with up to 70% of users indicating that price is their primary decision-making factor.

“We have the technology to identify trends, whereas many of our merchants tend to lack digital tools or know-how. So, we have to sit down and explain what the data tells us and what they should do to adapt their offers.”

That can mean anything from exploring new partnerships – food-related collaborations tend to be a hit, she explains – to leveraging live streaming in more competitive areas like staycations.

It seems to be working. Annual revenue related to domestic consumption has exceeded the outbound business line’s pre-COVID levels– a feat Kwan and her team could not have imagined 12 months ago.

“Honestly we were a bit shocked when the numbers came through. It’s been a great opportunity to really streamline how we approach the local market. When tourists do return, we believe that all the work we have done to get closer to our customers and merchants will be just as relevant as ever.”