By webintravel – 21 Nov 2022

WITH travel picking up all over the world, it’s easy to forget about the domestic players and simpler attractions that satiated our wanderlust when borders were closed. Technology has evolved leaps and bounds over the last couple of years, and many key players in the travel and hospitality space are using advanced data and algorithms to cater to the modern traveller. 

Smaller, hyperlocal attractions have a harder time capturing the attention of eager travellers. That, my friends, is what the kids call a pain point. This gap in the market is what started my conversation with Parthiven Shan, CEO and Founder of TripCarte, and then TixCarte. Both companies operate in the same spectrum and address a nagging problem in the travel space; the plight of the small, domestic attractions owner. TixCarte handles the business owners, while TripCarte is an end-consumer-facing entity.

I caught up with Parthiven to talk about the relatively new TixCarte, how he’s reaching out to more merchants in the market, and why his company provides full refunds on unused or changed tickets.

Q: What is the gap in the market you’re trying to solve with TixCarte?

When you look at the travel industry, there are three main segments – accommodation, airlines, and lastly, “things to do” or tours and activities. What we realized was this last segment is very fragmented and there’s no structure on how ticketing is done – everyone does it manually with a lot of legacy issues. You’ll be surprised that some companies still rely on phone calls or WhatsApp messages to send and receive booking confirmations. 

That’s why smaller tour vendors can’t really compete with the big guys – they’re not able to promote their attractions on better platforms and there’s a lack of exposure. That’s why we felt there’s an opportunity here and it is a significantly big market. 

Travel is always associated with inbound travellers to the country, right? But a significant part of the market also comes from domestic travellers and weekend travellers. Malaysia has so many long weekends and it’s amazing how crowded popular destinations are during long weekends.

I think one area that has been overlooked by a lot of tourism players is the domestic market. There’s so much potential. With platforms like Shopee and TikTok, you’re not really planning a major holiday. And if you’re planning a quick trip from KL to, let’s say, Betong… you’re probably going to surf TikTok to see what you can do there – check out some videos, some pictures. That’s the market I think a lot of players are missing out on, and that’s where our strategy is. 

We started off in Langkawi and we realised that we could build a platform to standardise bookings and confirmations for the smaller attractions and vendors and make the process seamless. It’s the little things that you take for granted on the bigger accommodation and airlines platforms – we just wanted to bring those benefits to the smaller activities segment.

Q: How do you handle the competition in the travel space, with so many new players and lots of big players dominating the scene?

Well, any major destination will have its big theme parks. If you Google “things to do in Kuala Lumpur”, I’m sure you’ll see your “Sunway Lagoons”, “KL Towers” and “Times Squares”. These are the big guys, and they probably get between half a million to 800,000 visitors a year. They probably have their own marketing team and own channels of selling tickets.

The problem arises when the domestic service providers struggle to compete with that level of exposure. I’m talking about your ATV providers or… there’s this beautiful river cruise in Malacca which doesn’t get the attention it deserves. They don’t have the budget and the know-how to compete with the “Legolands” of the world. 

What they need is a simplified booking engine that allows them to sell on all the bigger booking platforms. They can work with your apps and OTAs (online travel agencies). They also need content providers who can create short videos.

Some of them struggle with customer service. We’ve worked with a lot of smaller-and-medium-sized attractions in Langkawi as well – they used to do 100,000 visitors a year and they’re seeing improvements now because they’re a lot more exposed to the tourism market and domestic travellers are visiting them over longer weekends. Ultimately, I think we simplified their process. 

“I think one area that has been overlooked by a lot of tourism players is the domestic market. There’s so much potential.” ~ Parthiven Shan, CEO, TripCarte and TixCarte

Q: Can you explain your revenue model? Because you have two arms, TixCarte and TripCarte, and I’m trying to understand how your ecosystem works.

TixCarte is basically a B2B provider of attractions and activities tickets. We provide these tickets to resellers – they can be online travel agents (OTA) or they can be independent travel agents who have, say, Shopee stores or they could be selling on TikTok. We provide tickets through APIs and a reseller app. 

One of our partners is our own brand, TripCarte, which is a B2C OTA. 

Now, coming back to the revenue model – we negotiate with the attractions, we tell them about the things we can do to help increase their sales, how we can open up new markets for them apart from the domestic market, things like that. 

So typically we negotiate a good margin from the sales. Typically we get about 25% and then we share those margins with our resellers as well. We keep about 7%, give the rest to them, and they can sell the tickets and they can set a margin with the consumer as well.

Q: Is that your only revenue stream? How about advertising? 

Our core revenue model is from the ticket sales, but we are looking at smaller revenue streams as well, where we work with the smaller attractions to provide content that is suitable to be used on platforms like TikTok and Shopee. 

On TikTok, you’re probably looking at 15-to-30-second videos, and some people may not know how to go about creating that. So, we work with freelancers and video production teams to produce these videos for the resellers, and we get a small cut or revenue stream from the attractions for this particular service as well. 

Q: You currently service 5 countries in the region (Malaysia, Singapore, India, Thailand, Indonesia). Any plans to cover more areas soon?

In the next three years, I’d say these are the core countries in our pipeline that we want to focus on. We’re just scratching the surface in these countries. Just to give you an idea of how big the market is, there are about 2,500 attractions to tap into. So it’s all still new, still very “early days” for us. 

Every travel report talks about how good inbound travel is in Southeast Asia. And we haven’t really opened up the China market yet, everyone’s hoping to see that open by Q2 next year. So we’re hoping to see a big inbound surge in tourists from China when that happens.

Screenshot of the TripCarte homepage

Q: Here’s something I found interesting. The refund policy on your platform says “all unused tickets are fully refunded”… doesn’t that encourage impulse-bookings and then for people to cancel their plans last minute?

There were a lot of reports during the pandemic on the main travel features that consumers would like to see post-pandemic – like, what would incentivise them or bring back confidence – and one of the main things they talked about was flexibility. People want flexibility and peace of mind so if they change their plans for whatever reason, that they can get their money back. 

Or if they want to change the date – say from a Saturday to a Sunday, which is normal for people who don’t want rigid schedules on holiday, right? That’s the main things people want with cancellation policies. 

I can tell you that we’re one of the very few companies that provides this. And the reason we’re able to do this is because we work directly with every one of our merchants. There is no third party at all. Our system is basically in the merchants’ counters. We have our redemption counters and devices there.

We were adamant about not working with third parties because we wanted to protect this feature for the end-consumer. That’s the only way we can tell the consumers to not worry, have a good time, and if there is a cancellation during your trip, we’ll give you a full refund. Our B2B partners love this feature, it makes the most sense for them.

And you’re right, it has a lot to do with impulse buying. If you look at the travel journey, first people book their flights, and then a few weeks before the trip you check out hotels and accommodation, and after all that you’ll plan other things to do there. So you want consumers to have that flexibility to book online and move things around if they need to.

We work with the Shopee sellers and social media sellers to give consumers an idea of what to do on short trips over the weekend.

Q: What’s your main challenge at the moment?

Our main challenge would be educating the industry. This industry is filled with the “legacy way of thinking”. A lot of them still have a conventional way of working with travel agents and service providers. So it’s a bit difficult to ask them to think out of the box, and maybe think of features that would benefit the end-consumer in the long run. 

Things like dynamic pricing, for example. Many players only think of making money during peak season, but they’re not thinking of new ways to generate income during off-season. We can help them with that – maybe introduce different pricing schemes during those times. With more people working from home, they might even be able to visit these attractions during the week and maybe even work from there. 

So, these are the challenges that we’re facing. I went to Bukit Tinggi recently and apparently, they have a beautiful ‘flying fox’ experience – it’s supposed to hold a record for something in Southeast Asia, I can’t recall. But I was talking to the guy handling it and… it’s quite sad during the weekdays because they practically get no one, while on the weekends, they can’t really handle the crowd! 

There are many things they can do to solve this – maybe better promotions or incentives… so yes, these are the biggest challenges for us.

Q: What’s next for TixCarte and TripCarte?

Geographically, we’ll focus on those five countries mentioned earlier. We’ll expand in terms of more merchants and variety of attractions and listings. We’ll help them understand how to include more value-added services as well. With omnichannel availability – people messaging you on Facebook, WhatsApp, and other channels – sometimes the merchants don’t have the capacity to handle all that. We want to help them in those areas, too, with a deeper vertical service. 

And like I mentioned before, sometimes you need content to promote them. We want our merchants to know that we’re actually partners to them, not just another competitor trying to take a share of their customers and their market.

Those are our expansion plans.

Written By Arvindh Yuvaraj :

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