As an avid traveler who has spent time in Asia, the most rewarding experiences were always those that felt local and were less advertised. Unfortunately, these are hard to find. Tourists flock towards top rated restaurants and activities based on rankings on sites like TripAdvisor. For the real experiences, you often need a local referral or the know-how to find unique experiences. Up until this point, there was never an easy way of finding these local experiences.
Thankfully, one Chinese company is fixing this problem by using blockchain technology to help China’s growing market for aspirational travel. WEGOGO, an established travel company dedicated to the long tail of travel, just launched WeGold, the world’s first travel blockchain to fuel Asia’s aspirational travel ecosystem.
I had the opportunity to learn more about the project with Wong Toon King “TK”, the Chairman of WEGOGO.
1. Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get started in blockchain?:
My name is Wong Toon King, my friends like to call me “TK”. I am the Chairman of WEGOGO. I started my first internet company in 1994, so I was literally the first pioneer in Singapore, Southeast Asia. And I’ve seen the internet grow from its first days — Internet 1.0 — where it was truly a listing of much of the content coming online, to the Internet 2.0, which have enabled six to seven million people to come online and to be interconnected.
Now, over the last few years, I saw this evolution of the internet to this 3.0. And 3.0 is really a convergence of three very key technologies: AI, Artificial Intelligence; “The Internet of Things”, which would explode the number of connected devices to over 50 to 60 billion; and blockchain technology.
As you know, on Internet 1.0 and Internet 2.0, most of the platforms have been a winner-takes-most model. Meaning the platform takes most of the economics of the services.
I truly believe that for the long term of the internet to be truly sustainable, people who contribute to the growth of the internet should be fairly recognized and rewarded for that. Until today, it’s been inefficient to be able to enable that. But now with the blockchain, which is essentially a decentralized trust system where you can create your own token currency, for the first time we have this opportunity to do that.
2. What was your inspiration behind WEGOGO? How did it all start?
We — with my co-founder and CEO of WEGOGO, Mak Chee Wah — realized that there are 120 million of Chinese who are traveling out of China, and their travel tastes have leapfrogged. They’re looking for the most exotic things, more local things, something very experiential. In 2015, the Chinese outbound market became the largest in the world. It superseded the US, who has 65 million (outbound travelers). It is nearly double the numbers and that’s still less than 4 percent of the passport holders in China.
We had to find a way to build the platform that could connect all these travel experiences of the long tail and these hundreds of millions of Chinese travelers. The only way we can do this very cost-efficiently while making it scalable is using something like the blockchain.
We believe the time is now right to a build a travel platform that helps the hundreds of thousands of small travel providers who form the long tail of travel. They bring the local flavor of their culture, offer unique activities of their community and engage travelers through their stories to make travel memorable, transformative, and better.
This is what we at WEGOGO call “Aspirational Travel” – the evolution of travel towards travel 3.0 – authentic local off-the-beaten experiences that are created, shared and discovered by people who are passionate about travel. And who also care and want to preserve and sustain it for all to experience. We call them our PathFinders.
3. What is your competitive advantage?
WEGOGO, based in the world’s largest and fastest growing tourism market of CHINA and SEA respectively, is pioneering a new “Fair-Share Travel Ecosystem” that aims to challenge the “winner-takes-all” model of the current incumbents powered by the technologies of Internet 1.0 and 2.0. These technologies brought immense innovation to our travel industry but also concentrated power and value of the “economics” in the hands of few.
This new technology that is emerging that will enable us to offer a new economic model – one that rewards and recognizes all in the network and the platform for their contributions. That is the coming of the public blockchain and the use of cryptocurrency to decentralise and represent assets and value with universal access.
We have built and tested our WEGOGO Wechat and iOS platform with live customers and real travel experiences over the past two years, assembled a highly experienced team, identified a large market opportunity with a proven service revenue model, and validated with industry leaders that we are on the right track.
We aim to be a game-changer.
4. What is the biggest problem currently in the market?
A new generation of millennial travelers seeking more local, authentic experiences. They have quickly leapfrogged from visiting places, to shopping holidays, and now empowered by social media and the internet smartphone, are traveling more, and wanting more in terms of local, unique, and off-the-beaten trail experiences. Today, however, less than 10% of these travel activities are booked online, and significantly less in Asia. Why so?
Tours and Activities segment is a highly fragmented market with more than 50% being small travel suppliers with less than US$250K of annual revenue. Less than 10% is transacted online today due to the lack of resources of these small operators, and the friction-scalability issues to onboard these wonderful local experiences online. They truly form the long tail of travel and a more cost-efficient and scalable way to reach them is needed.
WEGOGO helps the long tail travel providers with a technology platform on WeChat to reach out to the largest market of outbound Chinese travelers. Currently, these providers use Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TripAdvisor to reach out to their customers. However, these platforms are not accessible in China due to blockage by the Chinese authorities. The main social media platforms are Wechat and Weibo. WEGOGO helps these travel service providers connect with Chinese travelers.
In addition, the current models of online platform development favor the large players. It is an unlevel playing field that rewards the “winner-takes-all” business models. The mobile generation, through their sharing of images and reviews of their own experiences on social media is the actual true marketers behind the best activities in the destinations. But without a platform to perform transactions, their contributions can never be acknowledged or rewarded. Now with the blockchain and a public decentralized “value” system, that is about to change.
5. What does 2018 have in store for you guys?
The next phase of growth is to scale the platform with its peer-to-peer “Pathfinder” model by launching the world’s first decentralized travel blockchain in Asia and its WeGold cryptocurrency to reward peer-to-peer discovery of aspirational travel activities. Our goal is to use this “PathFinder” model to uncover 25 island destinations and 5,000 unique local experiences by 2018, and taking a step further to help realize WEGOGO’s vision of a “fair-share” travel ecosystem.
What do we envision? That someday, everything will be tokenized with the blockchain protocol. Just like how content was digitized when the “HTML” web protocol emerged in the mid-1990s. In the travel landscape, there will be the birth of all kinds of tokens.
Give us this chance to share and pitch to the passionate travel community and industry leadership our next phase of development. That we should take the lead to legitimize and build out responsibly so that this new technology and our model becomes a tool for better travel and a better world.Opinions expressed here by Contributors are their own.