Online travel search firm Kayak grows Asia-Pacific presence with office in Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 September, 2016, 5:21pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 September, 2016, 10:57pm

United States travel search engine Kayak is set to expand its presence in Asia-Pacific with a new office in Hong Kong and a larger team as the online travel market in the region is expected to become the world’s largest next year, its president said.

Keith Melnick, president of the travel search engine which lets users compare hotels, flights or packages across different websites through 1.5 billion searches made each year, said the company had seen strong growth across its 12 local websites in the region and that a larger physical presence would help develop the market further.

“The Asia market is huge. Next year it is on path to be the biggest online travel market in the world,” Melnick said.

“We’ve grown 200 to 300 per cent a year in Asia-Pacific with little investment. It’s a big market, but we don’t have a significant presence yet, but the market is ripe for what we offer.”

Online travel sales in Asia are expected to grow more than 21 per cent to US$215.92 billion in 2017, outstripping forecasts for the North American market at US$200.43 billion, according to eMarketer.

It’s a big market ... the market is ripe for what we offer
Keith Melnick, president, Kayak

China’s growing middle class that enjoy travel and a high use of mobile devices for booking trips, will see digital travel sales grow 36 per cent to hit US$95.29 billion this year, eMarketer predicts.

Melnick said the interest in outbound travel by Chinese tourists made the country a “huge market with huge opportunity” for Kayak.

Brokerage CLSA predicts Chinese outbound tourist numbers will reach 200 million a year by 2020.

Four years ago, 80 per cent of Kayak’s search volume came from the US and this share has now fallen to 65 per cent as other markets, such as Europe, have grown, Melnick said.

Kayak now allows users in the US to use chatbots, a technology which relies on artificial intelligence to respond to enquiries, within Facebook Messenger, Amazon Alexa and Slack to search for travel products.

Potential travellers can search by writing their origin and destination for a flight and after inputting a date the search engine then generates available flights which the user can swipe though within the chat apps.

Travellers can also write commands such as “things to do in Hong Kong” to receive suggestions for activities in the city.

Around 30 per cent of searches on Kayak are made on mobile phones, Melnick said, adding that a higher percentage of users in Asia use their mobiles than in the US.

The company is developing tools to give users a seamless experience as they browse on their mobile phones during a commute, check further details from their desktops and then book using tablets at home, Melnick said.

Viator, a tour and activities booking website owned by TripAdvisor, is also expanding its presence in Asia-Pacific, including Hong Kong, China and Southeast Asia, by appointing Anita Ngai, formerly of Link Reit and Expedia, to the new role of general manager for Asia-Pacific.

Ngai will focus on localising Viator’s products for the region to meet the demands of the increasing number of independent outbound tourists.