ChinaTravelNews, Ritesh Gupta – China is proving to be a tough nut to crack for Kiwi.com, but the European virtual interlining (VI) specialist isn’t deterred by its “slow progress” in this market.
Speaking to ChinaTravelNews.com during the recently held ITB China 2019 in Shanghai, Oliver Dlouhy, Kiwi.com’s CEO and Founder, acknowledged that the plans haven’t shaped up as expected, despite being trying for the last three years or so. “At this point, things are changing every day. It seems like we are going on our own, with a deal to sign a JV not working out. In China, we are slightly behind our plan but we expect to end this year with a small but capable team.”
He added, “We have lost time, but at the same time learnt a lot. My biggest lesson is that we have to be here, have a strong local presence. We have learned the hard way that China is an extremely difficult market for a European company to enter on its own.” A recent setback in Kiwi.com’s plans, as Dlouhy shared, was a JV in China that is still in suspense. The company had planned this alliance with a locally established player that was expected to help in the localization of its products.
Being a VI specialist, Kiwi.com believes it can replicate its processes in China, right from sourcing data/ content to making an offer to accepting payment to fulfilling it. Although there are challenges, for instance, the API documentation being mostly written in Mandarin with no English translation and, payments settlement also being an issue. But the team is confident the same should be fixed by a JV partnership or a stronger direct presence. The team is working with the local aggregators for sourcing airline content, and also trying to strengthen ties with TravelSky.
The major hiccup before Kiwi.com sets out for B2B and B2C businesses lies in building offers and infrastructure in China. “The problem currently is we how to get data from Europe to China. There is this Great Firewall that inhibits data transfer. There is a need to push terabytes of data to China every minute (owing to fluctuation in fares).” Dlouhy shared that the company is working on 500 data sources for flight content. “China alone has 100 data sources, and we have procured 30-40 of them,” he said.
“Globally Kiwi.com is doing great. We employ more than 2600 people in 17 locations across four continents,” mentioned Dlouhy.
Multi-modal transportation or mobility is being focused upon by various players in a big way. And that’s where Kiwi.com is also gearing up for a big leap.
“Virtual interlining, especially multi- and inter-modal is going to be a big thing in China and we, obviously, want to be a part of it. Our plan is to aggregate the content of all the ground carriers (buses, high-speed trains, etc.) along with domestic flight content (already have the international flights) and build an integrated transportation network.
Ultimately we also want to integrate the intra-city transportation (ride-hailing and micro-mobility) thanks to which we will be able to offer our customers a true address-2-address experience, regardless of if it is a trip just around-a-corner or to the other side of the world.
The whole inventory will always be bookable in one transaction and all the connections will be covered by a Kiwi.com Guarantee,” shared Dlouhy, who added that there is a huge potential, especially for domestic VI in China.
“Even in China, we are targeting 100% of transportation options in the future. We are going after the content – no matter how, no matter how much it is going to cost us…basically we want to get into the platform.”