Tourplus raises US$1mil seed round despite brutal market for travel sector

  • Focus shifts to domestic market where 96% travellers are self-driving
  • Angel investor highlights positive outlook for ASEAN tourism market

Brighter days ahead for Rickson Goh (centre) with his team after raising a US$1 mil seed round.

Tourplus Technology Sdn Bhd (Tourplus), a Malaysian travel startup that provides an online marketplace providing personalised itineraries linking travelers to local guides has announced raising a seed investment of US$1 million (RM4.1 million).

The lead investor is Jin Hui Wong, a Malaysian based business angel, together with a Malaysian corporation, GT-MAX Sdn Bhd, followed by SOSV and its accelerator Chinaccelerator and a few other undisclosed investors. GT-MAX's main business is motor distribution, however they are expanding into different industries, and investing in tech startups.

With that, you can mark Rickson Goh, Tourplus founder and CEO, as a man of substance. As a man who can meet his targets, no matter how badly the goalposts have shifted because of the worst downturn to hit the travel sector since 9-11.

In Dec 2019 when he announced raising a US$400,000, Rickson told DNA that he had enough runaway for 9-months before needing to raise a full Seed round of US$1 million. The scale of his achievement in meeting that target is magnified by the fact that the 9-month timeline took into account that 2020 was going to be a banner year for Tourplus with the Visit Malaysia Year 2020.

Instead it has been the worst year with the Malaysian tourism industry crushed with US$10.8 billion (RM45 billion) in losses reported in June.

“Rollercoaster,” is how Rickson describes the emotional journey this year.

“Emotionally, the last few months have been very challenging,” he shares. “We had no idea of what to do from the beginning of Malaysia’s lockdown from mid-March. We tried to do different things, ventured into frozen food delivery, then grocery delivery.”  

Riskson, who launched Tourplus in 2015 and has known some tough times, nonetheless steeled himself for a worst case scenario, “but I didn’t entertain any thought of quitting,” he says. “I have a responsibility to my investors and shareholder who believed in me, and that made me carry on my fight,” he says.

Focusing on what he could control, Rickson worked on strengthening his platform with a new feature that he will launch next month, while raising the number of registered tour guides and strategising around marketing efforts, once the next round came in.

The business strategy had changed too. While the focus used to be on foreign tourists coming into Malaysia, especially from China, it is now all about the domestic market.

“The tourism rebound in China is showing the world that domestic tourism is the way to go,” he notes. With as much as 96% of Malaysia’s domestic travel industry comprising of free independent travellers and self driving, Rickson senses opportunity for his guides-based service.

His confidence is shared by lead investor, Jin, who says, ”We are optimistic over the development of Tourplus. Although the travel related business has been heavily affected at the moment, we think the post-pandemic situation will be like China where domestic tourism rebounded over their Golden Week holiday. We are encouraged by the team’s tenacity and the positive outlook of the Southeast Asian tourism market in the near future which we believe will rebound as well.”

40% of the funding is allocated towards the platform expansion and refining their technology solution, 30% towards marketing efforts in their bid to expand their market base across the region and 30% funds allocated towards strengthening the talent pool. 

To date, Tourplus has managed to build a strength of 3,000+ registered tour guides all over Malaysia and SEA with around 10,000 users within the 2019-2020 time frame.  Tourplus provides certified driver guides and customisable itineraries that are reviewed by other travelers around the world.

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