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Travel Business Pivoting Through COVID-19

Tourism was one of the most impacted business sectors by COVID-19. As of Sep, over 60% of Asian countries are still closed to cross-border tourists and more than 20% of traditional travel service providers ceased operations temporarily or permanently including the recent shut down of Cathay Dragon. To survive the worst pandemic ever in history, startups are deemed to cautiously re-evaluate own situation and to pivot quickly to adapt to new consumer demands.

Despite overall economic downturn, there are some doing better than ever. According to some newly published data, the following industries have been experiencing opposite effect from travel, eCommerce (59% YoY growth), Food Delivery (41% YoY growth), logistic (20% YoY growth) and video conferencing (62% YoY growth). It ratifies that risks and opportunities come in hand-in-hand. Hence, utilize available resources that still align with consumer trend is a key for survival. For instance, staycation instead of cross-border travel.

In many Asia markets, if not all. For those who are still surviving, many travel providers are urged to change one way or another. Based on a recent survey, over 40% of travel agencies are selling fresh food, home appliance or F&B related products, one even started a cleaning service. We all do whatever it takes to survive, but to operate in unfamiliar territory, it’s indeed challenging for many to even get things started, not to mention generating profit. Therefore, resource consolidation & procurement become critical. More importantly, to reduce operational cost and improve efficiency. First movers turn to technology and alternative solutions like digitalization and AI for quite a turnaround.


Typical travel service providers like airlines, hotels and travel agencies historically preferred traditional ways of conducting business due to strategic alignment and lack of IT support and resources. Based on a recent survey, nearly all respondents (95%) expressed that their companies have adapted or have plans to adapt to digital or digitally enabled products, which was almost doubled from just 12 months ago, and at much faster processing time.

This trend is happening not only in travel, but many other industries. For our company, we’ve experienced “never seen before” demands from industries like telecom, transportation, retails and more. With top-down supports, the processing time has been shortened by over 50%. Consequently, produced much more upbeat results.


Typical travel service providers already possess some valuable assets which can be customized or transformed into a new business line – existing customer base and loyalty; extended distribution network; social media penetration; digital platforms (more or less); some even have established ancillary supply chains. With the certain effort of strategic repositioning and technological enhancement in place, businesses can transform from travel to lifestyle or eCommerce in a reasonable timeframe. In addition, a cost-efficient approach of marketing and customer service are important as well.

To echo the new market trend, a redefined market standard has come to play for solution providers to create hassle-free, big-data-driven solution suites. It requires minimum technical effort to connect. Moreover, by integrating to one system, it offers end-2-end AI and Big Data driven digital solutions along with inventory and distribution engine to ensure the efficiency system-wide.


Post pandemic market is challenging and exciting. Any available resources like accelerators, roadshows or partnerships, could change the destiny of a startup. We were very fortunate to be selected as part of the 2020 Facebook Accelerator Singapore hosted by Facebook (FB) and Plug and Play (PnP). It’s not just an accelerator program for us, but our entrance ticket to SE Asia market and potential partnerships with many market leaders like Facebook. Our business started on Facebook back in 2016, so being selected for the program is a milestone for the company. Both FB and PnP shared tremendous support and knowledge, which play an important part in navigating our company direction in such an uncertain market.

If I could go back in time to 10 years ago, the first thing I would tell myself would be “START NOW! DON’T WAIT!”. Opportunities only come by once. If you are a dreamer like many of us, then act fast. You never know who you’ll encounter on your journey. Maybe, just maybe that one event, or one person, can help you to make your dream come true.



Abel Zhao is the Co-Founder & CEO at Travelflan

Travelflan is a startup from our Facebook Accelerator Season 2 program.

Interested in joining our programs, click here!

To know more about our programs in Singapore, click here.

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