Caesar Indra, President of Traveloka, discusses how travel has changed due to the pandemic and the important role superapps now play in this digitalized world
The Southeast Asian travel industry has come a long way over the past decade. Traveloka was founded to solve the fundamental problem of finding and booking flights present in Indonesia.
Accessing travel alternatives and experiences throughout the region was also a challenge at the time. Trips were planned based on word of mouth or reliance on tour operators, focusing on classic experiences – visiting Borobudur in Indonesia, swimming in the Phi Phi Islands, visiting the Petronas Towers, sailing along Halong Bay and dinner by cable car in Singapore. There was no transparency in flight options or pricing, so often consumers are at the mercy of the travel advisor. This gap led us to create a platform that simplifies the painful process of booking travel across Southeast Asia.
The next big challenge was financial access. It is estimated that at least 24% of the population of Southeast Asia is “underbanked”. Due to structural challenges in Indonesia and other parts of Southeast Asia, it has always been difficult to verify creditworthiness, with credit card penetration remaining at 10% or less in Thailand, Indonesia and In Vietnam.
Built on the foundation of deep customer trust and data from our early days in the travel industry, we have launched a number of financial services products, including the pioneering Buy Now, Pay Later (BNPL) in Indonesia, and later two more products due to high demand, making it easier for customers to enjoy these experiences.
As we enter the post-pandemic travel recovery, the next frontier of travel will focus on harnessing technology to bridge the gap between the expectations and reality of travel.
Connected to disconnect
Travel is back in full force. Airports and airlines are increasingly convinced that they have reached a turning point in their financial recovery. Since the beginning of the year, travelers have been rapidly booking their next trips to meet their pent-up demand. As more countries fully reopen their borders, dropping any need for pre-departure and arrival testing, as well as quarantine requirements for those fully vaccinated, those looking to satisfy their wanderlust are increasingly faced with the nightmare of soaring fares, alongside varying levels of worry and hesitation – from the virus to safety.
For travel to resume and make a triumphant return to pre-pandemic levels, the deliberate deployment of technology will be essential. Obviously, technology is now embedded in society and has brought many conveniences. Even the tourism industry, which has traditionally not been the most tech-connected industry, has stepped up its efforts to embrace digitalization. For example, Changi Airport is making a concerted effort to make technology more difficult for travelers, taking contactless services to the next level. Self-check-in kiosks and baggage drops now work when a person swipes their finger over a screen, and passengers can use automated immigration gates that scan faces and irises if that biometric data is registered in a passport.
Today’s travelers want more holistic and personalized travel experiences. They are engaged in digital and these connected consumers expect a better experience than ever. The connected consumer seeks instant gratification, anything and everything needs to be at their fingertips. If consumers can spend all their time staring at their phone; make comparisons before buying the products and/or services, all on a single platform, with ease; travel should be no different. From the moment the individual thinks of going on a trip to the moment they return safely to the comfort of their home, the new connected travel experience is the way to go.
The reality of travel
In reality, the market for travel and local services remains very fragmented in Southeast Asia. There is a disparity between the expectations of savvy middle-class consumers and what service providers can currently deliver. Technology can help alleviate this problem by helping providers better understand consumer preferences and enabling them to create the experiences they want – which is where the idea of a super app comes in.
Superapps need to understand the unique gaps and pain points that customers face in each of their markets, and then address them. Strong data analytics capabilities are key to understanding the different consumer needs in the region, and to adapt and localize products and services accordingly, it is essential to ensure success in all geographies. Data insights will also play an important role in helping companies meet and anticipate future consumer needs, especially in the context of structural challenges in Southeast Asia.
Through this, superapps will connect suppliers and consumers, channel feedback and guide suppliers to improve their quality of service, which in turn will establish superior customer experiences and gain popularity. Ultimately, with the speed of technological innovation, it is important that we establish clear principles for who we want to be as a global community, and that this is reflected in the technology we develop and in the way which it is implemented.
Technology must be used to build a fair world
As we have seen, technology plays an important role in addressing structural challenges in Southeast Asia, such as financial inclusion and access to essential services. This will provide unprecedented opportunities to create greater equity and a better future for millions of people. But it is also clear that we must ensure that technology builds an equitable future for all; from which all people and all societies – from developed to emerging economies – benefit.
The pace of digitalization will continue to accelerate and transform the way we travel, connect and live. Greater digitalization will provide stronger insights into the unique behaviors of Southeast Asian consumers, and lifestyle services will thus become less fragmented. We expect this to transform the customer experience, requiring personalization never seen before in the world, which in turn retains and attracts customers.