LokaLocal striving to stay afloat by playing to its strengths
By Tan Jee Yee May 12, 2020
- Focusing on content & marketing arm to help businesses via marketing & branded content
- Creating virtual reality to give tourists a taste of the actual experience before hand
These are tough times, though some are having it tougher than others. The tourism industry is taking a massive hit with the Covid-19 pandemic. According to the World Economic Forum, it could take up to 10 months for the industry recover once the outbreak is over, with Asia expected to be the worst affect.
The World Travel and Tourism Council has warned that the pandemic could cut 75 million jobs worldwide in the travel and tourism industry. The trade group, which represents major global travel companies, project a global loss of US$2.1 trillion (RM9.1 trillion) in revenue.
This is putting travel experiences startup LokaLocal at the precipice. An online marketplace, launched in 2016, that connects travellers to local experiences, LokaLocal wouldn’t likely see any revenue anytime soon. They have recorded zero bookings since the outbreak and resulting movement control order (MCO) in Malaysia, and have refunded the bookings made on their site.
“We have done the best we can to cut our costs,” says Chin Yoon Khen (pic, left), its founder and chief executive officer. “Our team have agreed to take a temporary 10%-50% pay cut. We even moved offices to lessen the financial burden. I am incredibly thankful for having a team who gives their all.”
But the company has done a lot more in preparation for the travel slump. After seeing a drop in bookings as early as January, before the outbreak became a pandemic, they feared that the worst could happen.
As it turns out, the move to start their own content and marketing arm early in the year is shaping up to be a salvation. Called MY 360 Playbook, the objective is to raise awareness for local destinations as well as help businesses through video marketing and branded content.
Now, LokaLocal, which raised an undisclosed round of funding in Nov 2018, is able to offer video production services to business, which will be one way they can persevere during the pandemic.
Playing to strengths
A content marketing arm is a natural extension to LokaLocal’s key strengths. While their core business is in serving as an online marketplace for local travel experiences, the startup has been using well-produced videos and images to help promote – and preserve – these cultural practices.
Thus far, MY 360 Playbook has been producing video listicles and highlights that showcase local attractions. Reception has been positive – Chin says that, within 28 days, they were able to hit one million viewers without paying to boost their content on Facebook.
On the long run, LokaLocal will be producing virtual tours that viewers can experience. Imagine a 360-degrees VR video walk through a popular Malaysian destination. Beyond tourism, Chin believes that the service can be applied to property agents and museums. “That’s where we can leverage our skills,” he tells Digital News Asia.
MY 360 Playbook may just be one way for LokaLocal to get some income while tourism has ground to a halt, but it’s also about setting up for when the tourism industry begins its recovery. “In the next 18 months, our travel industry will have to adapt to many changes. With the pandemic, mass tourism will not be possible,” says Chin. “We will have to focus on local, smaller trips, perhaps towards more nature-oriented locations.”
MY 360 Playbook is one way to promote local tourism, as with their other initiative – Homesick for Malaysia – which aims to inspire people to visit Malaysia at a later date. As LokaLocal content and marketing lead Rachael Lum puts it, it’s a matter of raising awareness for local tourism.
“Although people are unable to travel now, we will use this time to raise awareness of Malaysia by sharing stories about the places, culture and people. Travellers will come back eventually,” she says.
Keeping experiences alive
That’s not all LokaLocal is doing in the midst of the pandemic. The platform has also initiated their Online Experiences feature, where users get to connect with their pool of local experts via online classes and webinars.
Guests are able to learn how to cook nasi lemak and chicken rendang, on top of virtual visits to Kampung Baru in KL or even pick up a new skill via ukulele classes.
This is an extension of what LokaLocal has been doing before the pandemic – bringing tourists to local cultural experiences in a bid to preserve them. According to Chin, some of the experts they engage are already doing online classes amongst their own communities. LokaLocal has appointed them as pilots for the platform.
“We can see bookings (for online experiences) have been good,” Chins says. “Online classes can’t replace the face-to-face experience, but this can let our experts stay engaged with people and still promote their brand.”
LokaLocal is currently preparing for virtual reality tourism. Their upcoming features would offer hotels, museums, travel agents and airlines a try-before-you-buy experience capability, which in turn gives travellers a taste for travel before they book their holidays.
For Chin, LokaLocal’s new content focus – videos, online classes and webinars, to upcoming VR – is the best the traveltech startup can do for now.
But even he can’t be sure the direction that his team will have to adapt in the future. For now they need to play to their strengths and it seems to be paying off.