Mapping out the perfect holiday itinerary can be a pretty daunting - from finding the right deals and best prices to avoiding scams - a trip can turn into a nightmare without careful planning.
For avid traveller Eric Gnock Fah, he saw that as an opportunity to create a platform that helps travellers book their holidays in a seamless and fuss-free manner.
With that in mind, he teamed up with Ethan Lin and Bernie Xiaokang Xiong to start travel activities and services booking platforms Klook in 2014.
Gnock Fah explains how the idea for Klook came about:
“When I was in Hong Kong, I spent a lot of time working but at the same time, I will always find time to go for weekend trips with my friends.
“We would book a hotel but when we arrive at our destination, I realised that we always had trouble finding, and booking, activities we wish to do. It was a cumbersome process. It didn’t make sense. That’s when the idea came to us, to build a booking platform.
“At the same time, we noticed this trend among millennials; they love to travel but most don’t go with a travel agent. So we were confident that this platform will be helpful for them,” he adds.
Klook allows travellers to discover and book popular attractions, tours, local transportation, restaurants, and unique experiences in over 300 destinations globally on its app and website. Five years since its inception, the Hong Kong-based startup have grown to achieve 'unicorn' status, generally defined as startups with a valuation of at least USD1 billion.
Gnock Fah's story is one that has been infused with a sense of wanderlust. The half-Brit, half-Chinese grew up in Mauritius. "We were of the only few Chinese families in the country." He continued his studies in the United States and later moved to Hong Kong to take up a position at Morgan Stanley.
“I was born in Mauritius, an exotic travel destination. Growing up in a multicultural society prepared me for what I’m doing today.
“You really need to be able to be comfortable and be able to relate to different cultures and different languages. So I think that (my background) gave me a good training ground,” he says.
When we asked what does ‘Klook’ means, Gnock Fah says: “K-L-O-O-K. Keep Looking.”
“The platform helps travellers to research and plan itineraries. Ultimately they can book services like rail services, airport transfers, or book a session for cooking classes or even book a table at restaurants." In short, it helps travellers to live more like locals.
“I’m not the type of traveller that goes to the destination and just stay in the hotel or the beach. I’m more of a curious mind. So that’s where it (the platform) stems from.
“We should go to the destination and keep looking for different experiences, cultures, understand the different local culture,” he adds.
Today, Klook has over 1,000 employees in 20 locations across the region and offers more than 100,000 travel activities and services.
So now, this platform (Klook) connects these travellers directly to these partner operators
“How we operate is similar to hotel booking. It’s based on commission. But it is different from the traditional method because hotels usually offer services through partners.
“Who are these partners? They could be the diving operator, or they provide cooking class- they would distribute their product and services through many offline travel agents. There’s a lot of margin and commissions that gets absorbed there.
“Our platform connects these travellers directly to these partner operators. With this direct connection, we are able to provide travellers with a discount to up to about 20t to 25 percent," he adds.
The company has raised over USD 521 million from investors including Goldman Sachs, Matrix Partners and Sequoia Capital China, and the latest, a USD225 million funding round led by Vision Fund, with participation from existing investors - which catapulted Klook straight in to the prestigious 'unicorn' club.
“I’ve always told my team: 'Three years ago, we didn’t have enough funding and we were in survival mode. Today we have the funding, but we are still in survival mode - that doesn’t change'.
“I think that (survival mode) is very important because with digital economy, we can do anything.
“We’ve seen a lot of companies like ride-hailing companies expanding their business into the travel industry, and travel business going into e-commerce.
“So we will have to keep an open mind and continue to build on the company’s own DNA and make sure that DNA is replicated across different sectors or industries you want to enter. This way we can continue to be competitive,” he says.