Most of us, if not all, would agree that the COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped our lifestyle. We have been forced to lessen social activities and remain in Hong Kong, given how extremely difficult it is to travel now. The travel industry is undoubtedly one of the sectors most severely impacted by the pandemic spurring businesses to respond swiftly and adapt to the new normal and, most importantly, to welcome the travel industry to take off again.
Many people are looking forward to travelling again after months of travel restrictions. With most countries banning foreign visitors, there has been a sharp decrease in air traffic demand. In July, the Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) handled only 96,000 passengers and 9,870 flight movements, representing year-on-year decreases of 98.6% and 73.2% respectively.
The Airport Authority Hong Kong (AA) said the weak travel demand is a result of the continuation of Hong Kong’s entry restrictions for non-residents, as well as immigration restrictions and quarantine measures implemented by different countries and regions.
Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic began to impact Hong Kong in late January, tourism in the city has endured its toughest time ever. Figures from the AA reveal that over the first seven months of this year, the HKIA handled just 8.4 million passengers and 104,000 flight movements, equalling year-on-year decreases of 81.2% and 58.4% respectively.
The deplorable situation has been echoed by figures from the Hong Kong Tourism Board.
In July, Hong Kong received 20,600 visitors, representing a daily average of about 660, a 99.6% drop year-on-year. From January to July, the number of visitor arrivals totalled about 3.5 million, a decrease of 91.2% year-on-year.
“We thought that Hong Kong’s outbound travel would be greatly impacted by the protests last year. However, it was not the case,” says Percy Kwan, marketing director of Klook, Hong Kong.
“But the story is different this year. The unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to focus on domestic travel across the markets that we are operating in,” she adds.
Hongkongers are familiar with exploring their own city but have little choice when compared to other countries and regions. As Taiwan is one of Klook’s focus markets, Kwan cites it as an example.
“A resident in Taipei can go to Tainan or outlying islands in just a short period of time to enjoy a very different experience. While Taiwan has less COVID-19 cases than the majority of countries and regions in the world, domestic travel thrives there.”
“But it’s much more challenging to develop new travel products in Hong Kong.”
To meet Hongkongers’ needs for domestic travel, Klook has been working with hotel operators to offer staycation packages on its platform. These packages normally include a one-night stay and some dining perks for customers. Currently, Klook offers packages from around 60 hotels in Hong Kong.
Kwan says these staycation packages cost less than a trip to Taiwan and customers can stay at the hotel overnight while enjoying meals. Such arrangements allow customers to enjoy their vacation in a hotel at a competitive price.
To further attract potential customers, Klook has also implemented more stringent hygienic measures with partner hotels.
In addition to staycation packages, Klook now also provides customers with local activities and dining offers. For instance, customers can book glamping (a style of glamorous camping with amenities and resort-style services) packages and buffet discounts on Klook’s app and website.
Kwan adds that different types of dining experiences are crucial to a vacation. Dining offers are not new to customers in different markets but recently Klook diversifies such products to both meet customers’ needs and explore more business opportunities.
Klook has not only developed new products in Hong Kong, but also in other markets.
In Taiwan, it collaborated with Taiwan-based Starlux Airlines to curate a package encompassing a one-way flight flown by founder Chang Kuo-wei from and to Taipei with inflight dining in early August, as well as a one-night stay at hotels in downtown Taipei.
With significant media coverage on this flight in Taiwan, Klook further collaborated with the airline to operate a similar flight in late August as well, achieving impressive results as all seats were sold out.
To marketers, how to respond to customers’ needs and satisfy their appetites are crucial to success. Meanwhile, local expertise is indispensable to tourism and particularly to domestic travel. Currently, Klook operates in a total of 28 markets and every market has its own marketing team, which can offer up-to-date local intelligence and share insights among the company.
With millennials being Klook’s target audiences, the company develops travel products based on research of their preferences.
Kwan explains, “Millennials long for different types of experiences. We learnt that train journeys are getting more popular in recent years across various markets. In response to this trend, we collaborated with the West Japan Railway Company and Rail Europe to offer rail passes on our platform.”
Customers can also join local tours offering exclusive experiences.
Apart from experiences, millennials are looking for convenience. Kwan says that products available on Klook’s platform can help customers enjoy their trips right after landing at a destination, from SIM cards and airport transport to hotels and admission tickets to attractions.
With diversified product offerings, Klook can act as a one-stop platform for customers, especially millennials. Apart from their digital-savvy lifestyle, according to a CNBC report, millennials planned to take about five trips on average throughout 2019, and more than half of them were working to save more for a trip.
Millennials’ aspiration for travelling offers plenty of opportunities for Klook, but their travel patterns are also different from other generations.
Klook conducted a global solo travel survey in November 2019, with 76% indicating they had either travelled alone already or were considering it, regardless of age, gender and nationality.
At the same time, about one-third of travellers said the main reason for travelling solo was to “meet or date new people”.
Geographically, the survey also revealed that travellers in Asia were leading the solo travel trend as up to 93% of Asian travellers had either travelled alone in the past or said they were open to the idea.
As a Hong Kong-based company with offices around APAC, Europe and the US, Kwan says the majority of products and services on Klook’s platform can satisfy the needs of individual travellers.
Although travellers can hardly travel around in the current situation, Klook has tapped into the rising trend of livestreaming to engage audiences. It’s offering virtual tours of attractions around the world, including Barcelona, Bali, Cebu, and London, through its Facebook page.
Other livestreaming events include a collaboration with Hong Kong-based YouTuber Martin, who runs an online cooking channel “dimcookguide”, to introduce kitchen appliances.
Projecting into the future, Kwan says Klook will continue to adopt the mobile-first strategy, an approach that the company has leveraged since its establishment in 2014, as customers are hoping to enjoy convenience and are expecting to use more cashless payment in the future.
Additionally, local market insights are essential to develop new products. For instance, in Hong Kong, it’s sometimes difficult to buy concert tickets due to high demand and ticket scalping.
To help customers buy tickets more easily, Klook offered concert tickets of Taiwanese singer Jay Chou although the event was rescheduled to April 2021 at Central Harbourfront.
Marketing asked Kwan of her impression of working at Klook, a relative newcomer with just six years of history.
“The company encourages employees to travel more to get more ideas and exchanges them among themselves under the same roof or with their counterparts in other markets. We hope they will be the ambassador of the company and tell their stories on the road to audiences,” Kwan explains.
“Working with a group of young people also requires me to keep myself energetic and respond to changes in the market more rapidly and efficiently. With the use of data, when we see some new trends, we can come up with new ideas in just a short period of time,” she concludes.