Forget the enormity of China (and its travel brands), what about its startups?
As a finale to the TravelDaily Conference in China last week, a string of startups took part in the now traditional travel conference pitch session in front of a group of peers/judges (and a further 1,100 delegates).
Perhaps it is easy to get carried away with the monumental opportunity that many believe comes along with the growth of the Chinese travel industry.
It’s hard not to see why given the eye-watering numbers of travellers expected in the coming years, investments being made by major players into new products and the pace of change of its travelling public.
But spare a thought for the startups in the country – those that are just like the countless other new businesses seeking to disrupt (that word again) an industry often considered to be stuck in its ways or just plain difficult to establish a foothold in.
They encounter the same problems as their more high profile counterparts in Silicon Valley, and the hundreds of others that are sprouting up in many countries around the world.
First of all, most still need capital or resources of some description to get going (and survive in their early stages).
They often also have the same barriers to entry that exist elsewhere.
And almost all are trying to solve a problem they believe needs fixing in the travel, tourism and hospitality industry.
As a finale to the Travel Daily Summit in China this week, a string of startups took part in the now traditional travel conference pitch session in front of a group of peers/judges (and a further 1,000 delegates).
Despite the seemingly (but perhaps not, when you get under the skin of the place) different business and cultural structures that exist in China, startup competitions in travel appear to be wonderfully (or terrifyingly) similar, wherever the location.
Delegates heard about a new dynamic packaging distribution system called Lixing, focusing mostly on tours and activities.
A heady strategy and agenda for a new brand given the complexity of that particular sector, but perhaps a somewhat refreshing (think about it) comment up-front in its pitch:
“We found a gap in the market before coming up with a solution.”
Other newbies included GogoGlobal (a shopping guide and discount service for outbound travellers) and a mobile-based tour guide search engine for China called Beijing Super Guide.
Two particular brands stood out – Yoyoo8 and DFB365.
The former was a product distribution system and marketing platform for cruise products, an area of the industry in China which many believe will soar in the next few years. Yoyoo8 is not only trying to get traction with a consumer-facing brand but also has designs on being a major player with existing brands by way of a series of APIs to connect agencies to operators.
DFB365, however, was to some extent the (probably unintentional) joker of the pack.
In short, the mobile app is a last-minute and instant booking service for hotels. But it doesn’t cover room nights – instead it focuses on room “hours”.
Cue curious chuckles from pretty much most of the male audience (and a fair few blushes from some of the female delegates).
“It can help young people with their logical demands [there's a new phrase]… but also business travellers who just want to find a place to sleep.”
Beyond the eyebrow-raising proposition of one part of its strategy (one can only imagine the complexity surrounding revenue management for rooms in hotels based solely on hours), the corporate exec element shouldn’t perhaps be brushed aside so easily.
Any visitor to China will often notice the “sleeping tents” that can be found in airports and railway stations for passengers looking to rest their weary bones between journeys. Still, an offshoot of HotelTonight to emerge in the west maybe?
Nevertheless, the eventual winner was a new service called Weekend Travel, essentially a tours and activities platform which uses students as guides and runs on the WeChat platform (seriously, the buzzy brand of the moment in Chinese social media).
Focusing solely on the WeChat platform has seen it expand rapidly to capture one million users in just a few months, all looking to search and book bus tours and packages. It also now uses the equally popular QQ messaging system.
Interestingly, a group of investors and senior execs from the likes of CTrip and eLong who appeared in a session earlier that afternoon offered surprisingly little in terms of tips on how to raise money and areas which challenge startups every day, but the one area they all agreed on which is ripe for a brand to come in and capitalise: attractions.
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