SINGAPORE – The crowded online travel market is set to welcome another travel booking platform when Singapore-developed BlackBook Travel launches in December this year.
The online travel platform, which is self-funded, aims to offer services for each stage of the travel journey from pre-trip planning to booking, on-trip help such as map access and currency conversion, to sharing trip itineraries.
It doesn’t matter who we procure from, (whether they are) large global distributors or small territorial suppliers, or how well-categorised their inventory is. It was important for us to be able to offer clarity as we aggregate information from various travel suppliers and engines…and do that without losing data integrity,
At its initial release in December, the platform will offer hotel booking and itinerary planning, shared BlackBook’s founder and CEO Iqbal Jumabhoy at a media preview on Nov 13.
BlackBook’s offerings will, progressively in the following months, include flights, travel insurance, attractions, transfers, car rentals and restaurants.
What sets the platform from other existing platform, according to Mr Jumabhoy, is how it "offers the traveller a holistic experience from discovery to search, booking, trip management and rewards".
One of the standout functions of the platform is its loyalty programme, which offers travellers greater spending flexibility. Points earned from a single stay can be immediately be used to offset the next hotel stay or converted as cash and credited to users’ credit cards.
The platform also aggregates third-party content from hotel reviews from various platforms such as Tripadvisor and TrustYou, as well as over 32 million points of interest globally that can be added to a personalised itinerary and fully synced with the user's in-app calendar.
A veteran with over 30 years in the hospitality and technology sector, Mr Jumabhoy created the platform to tackle issues such as the drop-out of customer support once travel bookings were made and ineffective loyalty programmes.
Currently, the platform’s main offering is a hotel inventory of over 1.82 million unique hotel listings, which it contracts through wholesalers. Its hotel inventory will ostensibly place it ahead of competitors like Trip.com, which has a listing of 1.3 million hotels.
Mr Jumabhoy claims the platform will offer “highly competitive rates” through an automated price benchmarking function that checks more than 9.5 million price points daily.
Hotel listings on the platform are parsed by its proprietary AI engine, which aggregates hotel inventory from multiple sources and removes duplicate hotel and room listings. It is able to sort through price disparities around hotel details such as room categories.
“It doesn’t matter who we procure from, (whether they are) large global distributors or small territorial suppliers, or how well-categorised their inventory is. It was important for us to be able to offer clarity as we aggregate information from various travel suppliers and engines…and do that without losing data integrity,” said BlackBook’s CTO Ravinder Namboori.
"A partner than threat"
Mr Jumabhoy said that BlackBook intends to partner with hotels in a fair manner versus the current OTA model, which is adversarial and based on maximum cost for distribution.
"We want to offer an alternative to hotels without breaking their current distribution arrangements. This in turn allows them to keep more profit, share some of this with the guest and enhance the guest experience," he explained.
When asked if travel agents should be concerned about the intentions of the new online platform, the company stated its intention to "be a partner rather than a threat".
It currently has a B2B programme plan in the works, which will eventually make BlackBook's content available to both traditional and online travel agents.
"They will then be able to offer their clients competitively-priced product globally, instantly – enhancing their competitive ability. Our online engine will also be offered to smaller OTA’s, which will allow their customers a direct access to our products and engine," said Mr Jumabhoy.
The company is expecting to expand the platform's reach to travellers across the region once it gains traction in Singapore, looking to countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan and Thailand.
"We will continue to widen our reach within Asia Pacific to include Australia and New Zealand – which sits on the list of top 10 travellers. Beyond APAC, we will explore emerging markets with a strong potential for growth, based on current percentage of travellers compared to population size. This will include China, which is also a top spender in outbound tourism, as well as India and Brazil," Mr Jumabhoy concluded.