Despite its relatively small
geographic size, Southeast Asia is one of the world’s most diverse regions, and
with 650 million people, its population is larger than North America.
Generally defined as the 10 member states of the
Association of Southeast Asian Nations - Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines,
Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia and Vietnam - Southeast Asia
has a wide range of languages, religions, cultures and economic development.
But the overall picture is one of growth.
At a meeting of the ASEAN economic ministers in August
2018, the association
reported that if the region were a single country, it would be the world’s
fourth-largest economy by 2030.
One reason for this upward trajectory: a very
young population that’s giving the region a huge labor force, estimated to be
second only to China and India. As of 2017, more than half of the region’s
residents were between the ages of 20 and 54, with another 34.5% below 20.
These figures are, in part, the reason travel
and tourism predictions for the region are generally positive, forecasting
increases in both intra-ASEAN travel and international visitation.
According to GlobalData’s March 2019
report, Tourism Destination Market Insights: ASEAN, the region is one of the fastest-growing
destination regions in the world.
The report predicts a compound annual growth
rate of visitors of 4.72% between 2018 and 2022, from 129.2 million to 155.4
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“As disposable incomes rise, solo travelers,
families and couples are all attracted to the ASEAN region for its beauty,
range of activities and friendly locals. Backpacking, medical and wellness
travel and food tourism will be some important trends for the countries to
embrace in order to increase their appeal further,” says Laura Beaton, travel and
tourism analyst at GlobalData.
Where business is strong, innovation will
According to Cento Ventures’ Southeast Asia Tech Investment report for the first half of 2019, nearly $6
billion was invested during that six-month period in more than 300 companies
across a variety of sectors, and the company predicts total investments for
2019 to match the 2018 amount of about $12 billion.
And a forecast from Golden Gate Ventures and INSEAD predicts at least 700 startup exits in
Southeast Asia between 2023 and 2025.
“There is certainly no better time to
be an entrepreneur in the thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem of Southeast
Asia,” says Claudia Zeisberger, professor of entrepreneurship and family
enterprise at INSEAD, in the report.
For the second piece in our series on
Southeast Asia, we survey the travel startup landscape with insights from
investors and founders in the region.
Follow the money
According to Phocuswright’s The
State of Travel Startups Interactive Database, Southeast Asia has just over
100 travel industry startups that have been founded since 2005 and are still
Three of them, Singapore-based Grab and Indonesia-based Gojek and
Traveloka, are among the region’s 11 unicorns - companies with a value of at
least $1 billion.
Other large and notable brands include budget lodging startup
Reddoorz, online travel marketplace Wego and tours and activities provider
The region’s favorable macro-economic outlook is one of the
drivers of this growth.
The main challenge here is not so much one in terms of identifying the right business model... the challenge is more in terms of the execution on the ground.
Oliver Rippel - Asia Partners
“If you look at the affluence of the average Southeast
Asian, it’s about twice as affluent - using GDP per capita as a proxy - as the
average Indian. It’s still a decade behind China but in this very promising
phase where you are already at like 6X discretionary income relative to India,
per capita,” says Oliver Rippel, co-founder and partner at Asia Partners, a
private equity firm focused on growth-stage investments in Southeast Asia.
online travel is usually one of the pioneering segments in terms of transactive
e-commerce services in emerging markets. We’ve seen that in markets like China
In August, Asia
Partners led a $70 million Series C financing round for RedDoorz.
says RedDoorz’s focus on providing a tech solution for one- and two-star hotels
is serving a hugely scalable market of budget properties that still need to
come online and that serve many of the region’s first-time travelers.
Kuo-Yi Lim, co-founder and managing partner at Monk’s Hill
Ventures, a firm investing in post-seed stage tech startups in Southeast Asia
including KKDay and GoQuo, says the region’s middle class – growing in size,
affluence and comfort with digital consumption – is in need of more solutions
to serve its flourishing interest in domestic travel.
“Indonesia for example is a huge country – 270 million people, a sprawling
archipelago of thousands of islands, a lot of interesting attractions,” he
“But it is very unorganized, very fragmented, very non-transparent.
So there is a lot of opportunity for folks to provide that organization, the distribution,
linkages around that to facilitate those travels.”
The execution of that – bringing these long-tail suppliers spread
through Southeast Asia online – is a complicated task.
“The main challenge here is not so much one in terms of identifying
the right business model ... the challenge is more in terms of the execution on the
ground,” Rippel says.
“You have to build an effective account management structure on
the ground in the various markets. You can’t just acquire those businesses
through online means because often they are not online yet. So the local nuances
of how to conduct business requires a certain organizational and execution
muscle that many of these companies have to build up from scratch.”
For new startups there is also the challenge of standing out in an
“For a while there was quite a bit of open space for folks to enter,
and now founders need to be a lot more innovative, a lot more nuanced in their
approaches to become successful,” Lim says.
“That’s the challenge from an investor’s perspective. When we look
at new innovative startups, we are always looking in the rearview mirror and
wondering when would an incumbent and or a larger emerging platform player like
Traveloka catch up to it or even take advantage of the same opportunity.”
Lim notes Airbnb’s dominance growing as it has expanded into
experiences and restaurants, and Google’s ever-expanding presence.
“Google is looming. The question is when will Southeast Asia be in
its crosshairs. That remains to be seen,” he says.
Founders move forward
Despite the competitive landscape, two founders we spoke to are
optimistic about their prospects for success in Southeast Asia.
Google is looming. The question is when will Southeast Asia be in its crosshairs.
Kuo-Yi Lim - Monk's Hill Ventures
co-founded Singapore-based Split in mid-2018. The company enables airlines,
hotels and online travel agencies to allow customers to pay in installments.
Split provides the technology and also pays the travel suppliers instantly at
the point of sale – eliminating the risk of non-payment or fraud for those
Southeast Asia, the majority of the people don’t own credit cards. For the vast
majority, they are newly entering the middle class, entering the digital
economy and there is not a lot of data about them in the financial
institutions, so banks are not willing to take the risk to issue credit cards,”
“So if I knew if I could take away the upfront cost, I could get
potentially millions of people traveling. And I think many of them would be
traveling for the first time, given Southeast Asia’s booming middle class.”
In October 2018, Split won the Startup of the Year award at the
WebInTravel conference. Since then the company has signed a Malaysian ground
transportation online travel agency, CatchThatBus, and an airline (which Tan
says he cannot yet name). And Tan says on average, travelers that pay in
installments through Split are spending 19% more than travelers paying up
Now the company is raising
its seed round, which Tan says he hopes to close next month, and continuing to
develop its technology.
“We can’t just build one installment product, because the payments
landscape is extremely fragmented in Southeast Asia,” he says.
“So as we enter different markets we need to localize our product.
It’s a huge thing to tackle.”
BedLinker founder and CEO Thuan Dao also has a vision of expansion
throughout Southeast Asia, but for now he’s focusing on Vietnam. That’s the
home base of his company, which is a marketplace for travel agencies, tour
operators, destination management companies and travel management companies to
access hotel inventory.
Founded in December 2017, the company now has direct contracts
with about 700 three- to five- star hotels in Vietnam – a fraction Dao’s
estimate of around 4,000 properties total in the country. He also works with
third-party suppliers such as HotelBeds to provide inventory in Malaysia,
Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines and Myanmar.
resorts in Vietnam and other Southeast Asia countries are booming, and they
need help to distribute their hotel inventory to the world so they can get
inbound business,” he says.
hotels and resorts don’t have enough money to invest in technology, so we now
we invest in technology and create this platform to connect them to a wider
Dao says he
is in the midst of a Series A funding round, working with investors from
Singapore, Japan and Korea, which he hopes to close before the end of the year.
will be put toward his vision of making BedLinker first the largest supplier in
Vietnam, not just for hotels but eventually also car transfers and tours and
activities, and then to expand throughout Southeast Asia.
not much competition now in Vietnam. We want to take this opportunity to go
fast to get market share,” he says.
both BedLinker and Split are operating in less-crowded B2B solution space.
According to Phocuswright analyst Coney Dongre, eliminating the outlier of
Traveloka, “90% of the funding secured by Southeast Asia startups between 2009
and the first half of 2019 has gone to B2C startups, likely because the
evolution of consumers from offline to online offers enormous growth
opportunity.” (With Traveoka included that percentage jumps to 97%).