Taipei-based travel start-up KKday has closed its latest US$75 million funding round, helped by a pivot to domestic package tours after the COVID-19 pandemic devastated the global tourism industry this year.
The Series C funding was led by the Taiwanese government’s National Development Fund and the Tokyo-based Cool Japan Fund, while existing investors, including Monk’s Hill Ventures and MindWorks Capital, also participated.
KKday, which previously focused on offering ground package tours at foreign destinations, saw sales plunge 90 percent to hit rock bottom in March, but its shift to domestic tourists has since paid off, founder and CEO Ming Chen (陳明明) said in an interview.
“We were able to secure new funding because investors saw that we acted swiftly and that we were able to execute changes during a crisis,” the 47-year-old Chen said. “Taiwan’s domestic travel began to rebound in May and it exploded in late June. We saw sales from domestic travel in Taiwan grow five times from the same period of last year in July and August.”
With the government mobilizing quickly in the early days of the outbreak, Taiwan has kept COVID-19 cases to less than 600 and only reported seven virus-related deaths among a population of about 24 million.
Some domestic tourist spots have seen visitor numbers surge this year, a contrast with the struggles elsewhere.
A July report by the UN Conference on Trade and Development showed that the US$1.7 trillion global tourism industry is forecasting annual losses of up to 80 percent, while airlines around the world have said that they need as much as US$200 billion in bailouts.
Other markets that KKday operates in — including Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea — have seen a similar rise in domestic travel, Chen said.
Sales at the company, which was founded in 2014 and has more than 5 million users, could return to about the same level as last year toward the end of this year, he added.
Even in the post-COVID-19 world, people will continue to take trips as leisure travel is a “rigid demand,” Chen said.
However, they might choose shorter flights over longer ones, and prefer trips with fewer companions over traditional tour groups that squeeze a large number of people onto buses, he said, which creates opportunities for his business.
KKday is planning premium offerings such as yacht trips for those with high spending power who are stranded at home.
The start-up plans to use the funds raised to expand a platform called Rezio that helps suppliers, particularly those in Southeast Asia, digitize their services, Chen said.
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