Even before Malaysia entered its first MCO (Movement Control Order) in March last year, LokaLocal, the travel tech platform founded in 2016 to connect travellers to local experiences hosted by Malaysians, had started seeing a drop in bookings.
It quickly moved to a content and media play, setting up a travel and lifestyle platform called MY 360 Playbook. “We produced videos on things to see, eat and play in Malaysia, mainly putting the spotlight on destinations out of the city. Eventually we started getting in advertising requests,” said Rachael Lum, LokaLocal’s co-founder and content & marketing lead.
But when the first MCO was imposed between March and May 2020, that plan was also scuppered because the team couldn’t get out and about to produce content. Plus, bookings then fell off the cliff.
“Our bookings dropped by 90%. Around 80% of our customers were expatriates and non-Malaysian travellers, so the international travel ban left a huge impact. Some of our hosts decided to focus on other revenue streams. We had to move office and keep our team slim to manage our costs, while working on the pivot,” said Lum.
To help existing hosts the company translated some of its activities into virtual experiences. “This helped our local experts connect with people from around the world when no one could leave home, some of whom even hosted customers from international schools and companies.”
In July, LokaLocal set up its Virtual Reality (VR) division, leveraging its existing skills in technology and storytelling.
“We started by creating interactive virtual tours for our partners in the travel industry, such as hotels and tour attractions. During the pandemic we also tapped into several different industries such as properties, space rental, restaurants, furniture showrooms and healthcare. At a time when tourism has declined and foreign travellers cannot enter the country our new venture was able to generate revenue and keep our team together,” Lum said.
Announcing the initiative then, the company said “the technology also empowers businesses that want to take their stories and marketing message to a new dimension. Going virtual facilitates content discovery for venues and activities, while boosting engagement and providing real value.”
VR shoot at Four Points by Sheraton Kuala Lumpur, Chinatown.
The first release of virtual tours covered nine states in the country and two Federal Territories, with many focusing on the Klang Valley, which comprises Kuala Lumpur, the suburbs, adjoining cities and towns in the state of Selangor.
“We’re aiming to expand to other states such as Perak, Johor and Penang, and increase our VR content database,” said Lum.
Now with Malaysia facing a third wave of infections and a second MCO from mid-January, Lum said that some clients have decided to postpone their plans to introduce virtual tours.
“On the flip side, some realise that virtual reality will be the new norm and would like to adopt VR for their business. The lockdown has delayed some of our projects, but it is opening avenues in terms of awareness.”
She added that the company is letting its new VR venture take roots in more destinations and intend to keep this going. “In the meantime, our team is still able to do 3D rendered virtual tours that do not involve leaving home.”
Currently Lokalocal has about 160 virtual tours across various sectors. “We’ve worked with the National Mosque to enable VR for their mosque guides. We’ve created a couple of virtual tours that highlight Kuala Lumpur’s key heritage landmarks, which can be used by guides in the city. For hotels such as Smokehouse Hotel Cameron Highlands, Cititel Express Ipoh and MÙ Hotel Ipoh our virtual tours allow them to innovate their marketing efforts through a new digital platform.”
Among the company’s virtual tours are The Edison George Town (Penang), The Smokehouse in Cameron Highlands (Pahang) and 22 Hale Street History Museum in Ipoh (Perak).
Lum said that Lokalocal did not receive any benefit from the Malaysian government economic stimulus packages.
“So far we’ve been generating our own revenue through commercial projects. Where we can, we still allocate some of our resources to help tourism players during these trying times. It would help to have grants and support that are more easily accessible to companies that have new ideas and innovations to stimulate the travel industry and the nation’s growth.”
The Malaysian government has implemented four economic stimulus packages worth RM305 billion (US$75.4 billion) since the onset of Covid-19 early last year, and announced another aid package worth RM15 billion on January 18 for MCO 2.0, all intended to safeguard the welfare of the people and supporting business continuity.
As to whether she is pinning hopes that vaccines will fast track travel recovery and reopen borders in the near future, she said, “It would, but I think it will be a few years before the travel industry bounces back.”
She is, however, positive and optimistic despite the current situation in Malaysia with ongoing lockdowns, borders closed and inter-state travel banned. “Moving forward the team plans to focus on expanding our services in different states in Malaysia, and help more businesses adopt high-quality and immersive virtual tours. We are also in the midst of designing VR guide books that can empower local businesses through storytelling and our growing content database.”
These digital initiatives also help to build the foundation for recovery in travel, and to inspire travellers to visit Malaysia when the country lifts its restrictions and open borders to foreign visitors, she added.
Source: Web in Travel