Travel startup Qiito, working quietly behind the scenes, now ready for Primetime
July 26, 2012 by Sharon Lourdes Paul
The travel and tourism industry is one of the world’s largest, so it’s inevitable that many startups want to be a part of it. In Singapore, many travel startups have gotten quite a bit of attention too.
But not for one particular company, which had been quietly working the ground for the past few months. Now, however, it seems poised for Primetime.
The Singapore-based startup is ranked 63rd in the country on Alexa – closely behind Agoda and ahead of eBay and Tripadvisor. Its global Alexa ranking of around 20,000 places it in the region of Hipmunk, a highly-touted Silicon Valley travel site.
In additon, it has a partnership with the Taiwan tourism board, secured a seed funding of S$2.2M (US$1.75M) from Lunar Asia Investment, and hired a 15-strong team.
I’m talking about Qiito (pronounced key-tow). What started as a simple product review for me soon grew into an in-depth interview. For those curious about the company, here are some insights from the company’s founder and CEO, Pei-Han Chuang.
Since the alpha launch in 2011, what was the thinking behind the various iterations of Qiito?
The current beta is our third major iteration. Feeling that a critical essence was missing, we had a series of intensive discussions and re-looked user behaviors. We realized that travel is about discovering your inspiration, getting motivated to travel and finally, planning for it.
Overall, we have categorized both travel companies into three broad groups:
1. Information-focused: Users usually read through long texts, copy and paste the information to a spread sheet, and then they search for more information on Google.
2. Planning-focused: The planning focused model does not inspire users to use the websites beyond planning for their trips. That means travelers use the website for a limited number of times per year since there is only a limited number of trips one can make per year.
3. Social-sharing focused: As preference is a subjective thing, we believe this can only be used as a complementary tool to act as an endorsement for the trip that users are planning. It enhances users’ confidence on their decision.
The main challenge is to encourage users to visit the website even when they have no travel plans. This was one of epic discussions among Qiitors and we found that the answer lies on what is ‘Interesting’ and how to ‘grow interest’ in users. We are glad that we have a solution to this which has guided our site design. Unlike our competitors, our current beta version brings user through the discovery, research and sharing phases, which we believe, provides a cohesive co-creation environment.
Is your team concerned with the rise in social discovery travel applications such as TripL?
We’ve grown stronger in analyzing our competitors’ strengths and weaknesses, their hits and misses. Majority of the startups fail to look beyond their team and their own idea. Our team, however, is not afraid to scrap our concepts and go back to the drawing board again.
Most of the social discovery travel applications focus on visual inspirations that are heavily influenced by the masonry layout made famous Pinterest. To differentiate ourselves from our competitors and value-add, Qiito aims to move beyond inspiration by engaging users – to ensure that their initial interests blossom and motivate users to take action.
How has the support from Taiwan Tourism Board and Lunar Asia helped so far?
We are grateful for the opportunity to partner with Taiwan Tourism Board. It has given us invaluable experience of working with an established name in the industry. The news of our partnership with Taiwan Tourism Board has since prompted several other tourism boards to approach us. They have expressed interests in working with us. However to ensure that we provide quality service/product for our partners, we have decided to engage a limited number of tourism boards at this stage.
Our investor, Lunar Asia, has been most helpful in providing us with practical advice in running business operation, setting up more networks with potential business associates, and more. The support given by Lunar Asia has enabled us to concentrate on improving user experience.
Qiito seems to be free for users for now. Any plans to explore revenue models?
Qiito will always remain as a free-to-use website. Travel is one of most layered industries around, with a structure that is bulky and inefficient. Travel agencies’ market share are diminishing, and traditional airlines are facing increasing competition from budget airlines.
We believe Qiito plugs in the gap for the industry by streamlining the information flow of the travel industry, providing more flexibility and making it more cost efficient to operate. Our team continuously engages industry veterans, and helps to design a better solution for travel suppliers. Standing at the very initial stage of trip planning processes, we are confident that there are plenty of potential revenue sources.
Could you explain what makes Qiito so compelling and sticky to users?
Even before launching, we already had very loyal friends. Right after our launch, the level of engagement was quite high. Some guerilla marketing – secret for now – and social media marketing were carried out. It is a fact that people are attracted to nice photos. For content, Qiito is focused on six countries and food!
The main problem is to make users return and engage them further. Realizing this problem just a month ago, we decided to roll out some features: Travelogues, social elements. We now have over 3,000 places and 6,000 transport notes. Most are provided by our team, and 30% by our users.
I probed Pei-Han about exact traction figures for Qiito, but he is tight-lipped about it for now. He did point me to Qiito’s Facebook Page though, which has about 32,000 fans and an engagement rate of almost 20 percent.
On the surface, Qiito might seem like just another startup in the crowded travel space. From my conversation with Pei-Han, his strong confidence in both Qiito and his team comes through.
Moving forward, he is anticipating massive growth on his platform, and has begun preparing for it by studying Pinterest and their growth graph.
“They faced a bottleneck of user-generated content before achieving massive growth. I foresee a similar bottleneck, and we’re planning for that now.”
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About The Author
Sharon Lourdes Paul - Resident Contributing Writer
Sharon is the co-founder of SPACES, Singapore's portal for creative venues. She was formerly the co-lead of StartupRoots Singapore programme 2012. Aligned to these formal pursuits, her personal raves include UX, architecture/space design, urban planning, city living and cooking. Spot her at her blog and @sharonlourdes.Read other posts by Sharon Lourdes Paul