The rapid rise of entrepreneurs entering into South-east Asia’s travel landscape has been nothing short of transformative. Singapore, in particular, has been hailed as a venerable hotbed for startups to testbed their innovations before expanding into other countries in the region.
Edwin Chow, group director, industry development and innovation & startups, Spring Singapore, said: “The culture and attitudes towards entrepreneurship in Singapore have improved tremendously over the years and Singapore’s startup ecosystem is well placed for growth.
“Having the best intellectual property protection in Asia also means that entrepreneurs setting up here can be better assured of their proprietary content when developing unique technologies, encouraging more innovation in the market,” he added.
The number of successful travel tech startups launched in Singapore in recent years is testimony to the region’s immense potential.
Singapore-based BeMyGuest, which was founded in 2012, first secured S$500,000 (US$353,628) in angel funding in 2013 and moved on to purchase Indiescapes in early 2014, before bagging a further S$1 million in funding when it won Channel NewsAsia’s Start-up Asia Competition last year. It is now touted as one of the fastest-growing tours and activities booking platforms in Asia.
Founder and CEO, Clement Wong, said: “The market size (in Singapore) is small and one is forced to think regional from the beginning. (But) the infrastructure here is what sets it apart, and its access to the regional tourism market is a major plus point.”
TripZilla, an online travel portal established in Singapore in 2010 to aggregate prices, packages, itineraries and travel promotions across major booking channels in a country, has since launched in Malaysia as well in 2013.
Winnie Tan, founder & CEO of TripZilla, said: “Singapore’s startup ecosystem is mature compared with the neighbouring countries. Starting in Singapore means it is easier to raise seed money. There is good access to capital here – plenty of angel investors and government grants and schemes (that) tech startups can tap on.”
For instance, first-time entrepreneurs can apply for Spring Singapore’s ACE Startups Grant, which is a competitive grant of up to S$50,000, and recipients will be paired with a business mentor to offer strategic counsel.
The Technology Enterprise Commercialisation Scheme also offers successful applicants an early-stage funding of up to S$500,000 for the creation and commercialisation of proprietary technology solutions.
Rinita Vanjre, CEO of online platform for social dining BonAppetour and a recipient of the ACE Startups Grant, said: “(We decided) Singapore is a great place to do a startup mainly because of the ease of setting up a company, the range of government grants available to kick-start the growth, and the presence of many mentors to provide good feedback and advice on the startup.”
Lauding Singapore’s hub status for business and leisure travel, TripZilla’s Tan elaborated: “Tourism leaders and professionals often pass through Singapore for work and to attend industry events. This gives startups more opportunities to learn from the industry experts and do business with the big travel brands.”
Moe Ibrahim, CEO of reward-based OTA Journeyful, concurred: “The inbound traffic (into Singapore) is excellent if you can develop relationships with outbound tour operators or build your brand regionally.”
At the same time, Ibrahim also highlighted the “crippling costs” of entrepreneurship. “Startups are tedious work. There (still) needs to be more support for subsidised office space, legal advice, labour and marketing,” he said.
Spring Singapore’s Chow agrees that it is “no easy task” to become a successful entrepreneur.
He said: “(Startups) need to know how to translate their ideas into reality, have a good team to help scale the business quickly, and ultimately convince more customers to keep coming back. This requires a lot of perseverance, tenacity and hard work.”
This column is brought to you by TravelRave, Asia’s premier travel and tourism week offering a dynamic platform for business leaders and industry professionals to convene and share insights on pertinent issues and key trends in the travel industry. The events, co-located in Singapore under the auspices of the Singapore Tourism Board (which also organises the Asia Travel Leaders Summit), will be held from October 19-23.
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