The Malaysian travel industry halted operations in March 2020 due to the first Movement Control Order (MCO) imposed by the government to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Companies within the sector considered this a minor setback, believing that things will return to normal in a few weeks or months. 

However, over a year down the line, the pandemic continues to ravage the world, signalling doom for many businesses. Tourism hotspots and hotels are barely surviving the effects of the lockdowns. Despite the troubles, experts believe there are ways to cushion the impact of COVID-19, and traveltech happens to offer a possible solution. 

Travel tech startups in Southeast Asia have risen to the pandemic-driven challenges by adopting digital technology and using them to develop innovative solutions. Malaysian travel tech startups understand that they can weather the storm if they embrace technology.

traveltech startups Malaysia

We look at how traveltech startups are transforming the way people travel In Southeast Asia

This confidence arises from the increased dependence on digital channels, which tourists will most likely adopt in the post-pandemic era. The adoption of digital technology will help companies satisfy the needs of this category of tourist while also averting any unforeseen risks.

We take a look at the traveltech industry in Malaysia amidst lockdowns and border closures.

Introducing digital destinations

With physical travel still in far sight, digital tours have helped people fuel their wanderlust. In August 2020, Lokalocal launched virtual tours of tourist destinations in Malaysia, featuring cities, cultures and hidden gems. These tours aimed to serve as travellers’ holiday planning guides while also providing entertainment by allowing individuals to explore the attractive destinations available from the comfort of their homes. 

The tourism industry is still suffering, with only Malaysian airlines and some hotels gaining an impressive level of digital adoption. Other players such as rural tourism and ecotourism companies are between the low and medium scale. 

Adapting to the new normal

Travel tech companies are on the front burner of the digital transformation in the tourism industry. In April 2020, Airbnb discovered a new behaviour exhibited by users; most of them searched for travel destinations that were close by—about one to two hours away from their area of residence. 

The company swiftly responded to this trend by developing the “Go Near” tool, which users can leverage to find destinations not more than 2 hours away. Airbnb’s senior vice-president of global policy and communications, Chris Lehane, stated that these destinations offered different amenities to satisfy the varying needs of travellers.

For instance, a tourist seeking a four-bedroom apartment with a pool close to a mountain can find other options that closely match this description within that general geographical area. This feature reduced the hassle travellers faced while conducting their searches. 

The company also launched a City Portal, allowing governments at both national and state-level to integrate with the Airbnb platform to boost economic growth and help the travel and tourism sector recover quickly. It also gives officials access to the company’s data relating to the short-term rental market and property management compliance. 

Solving problems through technology

Another rental management company, HostPlatform, created an academy to teach property owners how to effectively use digital tools, such as ways to use booking websites, optimise listings, increase revenue and get ready for the reopening of travel operations. The training encourages property hosts to improve the quality and standard of their rental apartments in preparation for the travel boom. 

Property owners can also leverage the training to gain insight into proper targeting and driving the right leads to their doorsteps, helping them increase their chances of renting to tourists. 

HostPlatform’s academy also dealt with the issue of unhealthy price wars, which can lead to a rise in illegal activities, as offenders could book at low costs and without worrying about cleaning up. This problem led to a drop in ratings for some as such buildings are considered unsafe for tourists.

As uncertainties continue to ravage the travel industry, tourists want to be confident that they can get a refund whenever they cannot travel. The Malaysian-based company TixCarte solved this problem by developing an inventory-free instant confirmation system driven by an API. This system was built for flexibility, allowing resellers to cancel or modify travel plans without any hassles.

Profitable partnerships

Travel itinerary company Tourplus Technology partnered with Chongqing China Youth Travel Services Co Ltd, a Chinese travel company, to prepare plans for post-pandemic inbound tourism. Tourplus is working with Shanghai-based travel firm Ctrip to provide its application users with ticketing and hotel services. With this partnership in place, it can access 100,000 ticketing and hotel inventories worldwide, including Malaysia. 

In November 2020, the company also secured a $1 million USD venture capital investment as investors backed Tourplus because they believe the company is properly positioned to leverage the domestic tourism boom after the pandemic. 

Expectations are high in the ASEAN region as they continue to battle COVID-19 and traveltech companies are getting ready to cash in as soon as the situation normalises. It is safe to say that travel tech companies in Southeast Asia have countless future opportunities. However, there is much competition in this ecosystem, meaning that companies seeking to stay ahead must adopt digital technology now.