Tourplus, armed with $1m fund raise, moves from transactions to content to survive Covid

Tourplus raises $1m, pivots from deals to content to survive Covid

05/11/2020 By Yeoh Siew Hoon in Distribution, Featured, Marketing, Mobile, Regions, Industries, Startups

Rickson Goh (centre) and his team: staying together through Covid. Goh said there were no layoffs, but the team agreed to pay cuts and unpaid leave to get through the period.

Malaysia-based Tourplus, which matches travelers with drivers/guides and personalized itineraries, was on track to moderate success when Covid brought inbound business to a screeching halt.

Last September, it raised $400,000, making it a hit with clients, and its business grew 30% month-on-month between September and February. Beginning in March, revenue evaporated as borders closed.

However, the company, which was founded in 2015 by entrepreneur Rickson Goh, raised another $1 million last week from investors including Malaysian business angel Jin Hui Wong, GT-MAX and Chinese accelerator SSOV.

“We created a new business plan, went to investors and told them we could generate traffic and profit within 12 to 18 months,” Goh said. “They also know our ability to execute quickly.”

The new business plan involves launching an enhanced version of Tourplus, shifting it from a transactional model to a content-led one, and targeting the domestic market. The new app, scheduled to launch on Nov. 16, will offer social content, allowing domestic travelers in Southeast Asia to read reviews and find nearby businesses.

Goh’s aspiration is to become the TripAdvisor or of Southeast Asia, currently offering localized reviews while preparing for a post-Covid world where cross-border travel restarts.

“Currently, there is no need to book a driver/guide as domestic travelers don’t use guides. That’s why we’re offering this enhanced content feature.”

To weather the storm, it is also offering free airport transfers starting from RM60.

“Fortunately, we have cash flow thanks to the salary increase last September and we need to do something to survive. We just can’t wait for things to return to normal,” Goh said.

According to Goh, the company has served 10,000 travelers in the Southeast Asian region since its launch. Travelers book a custom trip in the app, choose a car type, and the booking is open to bids from one of its 3,000 drivers/guides.

Goh, who studied IT and business and worked at Maybank to revamp the bank’s internal group structure, said he saw problems that needed to be addressed in the last mile of travel – providing technical support to the driver/guide and digitizing the last leg. “People want to hire a driver who can take them around, and we can help transform drivers into guides with technology and a personalized itinerary.”

He believes that in the post-epidemic era, private tourism will become a major trend. “We saw this in China on Oct. 10, where they predicted a tripling of private tours. These families and small groups are also willing to pay more.”

His biggest challenge is educating travelers on how to use the product. He also knows how difficult it is to build a consumer brand in today’s market, which is why it acts as a supplier to online travel brands such as Traveloka and Klook. “We’re like a ‘Grab’ for drivers/guides. When people book our product, our drivers bid on it.”

Goh said the $1 million in new funding will be used for product and content development, as well as driving social engagement on platforms like Facebook or bloggers. It has also been using live streaming over the weekend to keep its community engaged with events.

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