Klook banking on AI to beef up travel services

Mr Eric Gnock Fah, co-founder of Klook, feels that Internet searches will be fundamentally changed in the next five years, with the likes of Google Assistant and Apple's Siri. Thus, it is looking at ways to fit its service into this new way of search
Mr Eric Gnock Fah, co-founder of Klook, feels that Internet searches will be fundamentally changed in the next five years, with the likes of Google Assistant and Apple's Siri. Thus, it is looking at ways to fit its service into this new way of searching, which includes voice search and image recognition.ST PHOTO: TREVOR TAN

Start-up behind booking platform using funding to boost development of travel tech

Klook, an in-destination services booking platform launched in 2014, is banking on artificial intelligence, or AI, to spearhead its expansion globally.

Singapore was one of the three cities to launch Klook during its inception, alongside Hong Kong and Macau.

Available as a Web portal and mobile app for Android and iOS devices, Klook (meaning Keep Looking) lets travellers get tickets for local buses and trains, skip queues at tourist attractions, and discover and book other local activities with a few simple clicks or taps.

Last week, the Hong Kong-based start-up secured nearly US$60 million ($81.8 million) in its latest round of funding.Klook has raised close to US$100 million to date.

From its early days of having just three co-founders, Klook now has more than 400 staff and 13 local offices across Asia, including in Singapore. The Singapore office, a four-level shophouse in Hong Kong Street, serves as its South-east Asian hub. Singapore is also one of its top five performing markets.

Klook said it has a network offering close to 30,000 travel activities and services, and covering over 120 destinations worldwide, most of them in the Asia-Pacific region.

With the additional funding, Klook is seeking to capture the growing market of Asian travellers going to North America and Europe, and vice versa. "In addition to global expansion, we plan to use the funding to accelerate the development of travel technology, which is really the core of the company," said Mr Eric Gnock Fah, Klook's chief operating officer and co-founder.

TECHNOLOGY INVESTMENT

In addition to global expansion, we plan to use the funding to accelerate the development of travel technology, which is really the core of the company.

MR ERIC GNOCK FAH, Klook's chief operating officer and co-founder.

One of the areas Klook is looking at is AI and the application of machine learning to facilitate smarter search. Mr Gnock Fah said the amount of data that Klook has accumulated over these few years has been surprisingly large.

The data includes customer information relating to the booking of local itineraries, as well as flight and accommodation data.

"If you are looking at the entire spectrum of travel (like airline, hotel and destination bookings), we can see all the customers' preferences," said Mr Gnock Fah.

He added: "One aspect that I think no one is able to see is the in-destination preferences, such as what activities travellers are interested to book."

  • $81.8m

    The amount Klook raised in its latest round of funding.

He pointed out that these in-destination data sets are very dynamic. For example, if someone travels to the same place often, his activities are going to vary far more than his flight data. All the data now feeds Klook's machine learning system to improve search and recommendations for users, he said.

Mr Gnock Fah feels that Internet searches will be fundamentally changed in the next five years, with the likes of Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Apple's Siri. Thus, Klook is looking at ways to fit its service into this new way of searching, which encompasses voice search and image recognition.

"For example, a user might take a photo of Universal Studios, and the (future) Klook app might be able to recognise it and send out recommendations accordingly," he said.

He feels that AI will fundamentally change how businesses are going to innovate. Pointing out how some businesses that are slow to move to mobile apps or create better user experience are now suffering, he said that AI is the next wave of change to be prepared for.

"It (AI) is still early but it is definitely worth investing in," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 01, 2017, with the headline 'Klook banking on AI to beef up travel services'. Print Edition | Subscribe