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Hong Kong travel site Klook to enter Japan market in 2019

Unicorn looks to serve country's well-heeled travelers, backed by $200m in funds

Klook's most popular tour with Instagrammers is of the demilitarized zone separating North and South Korea. (Photo courtesy of Klook)

HONG KONG -- Hong Kong-based travel booking site Klook plans to enter the Japanese market in the first half of 2019, looking to cash in on Japan's popularity as a tourist destination and to serve the needs of Japanese travelers.

Japan is already the top destination on the Klook website. Now the "unicorn" -- an unlisted startup worth $1 billion or more -- is turning its attention to Japan's lucrative outbound travel market.

Klook's chief revenue officer, Anita Ngai, in a recent interview with Nikkei, said Klook is "on track to launch in Japan by the first half of 2019, and is actively preparing by seeking local partnerships in marketing and distribution," adding, "Japan is a unique market and we want to be sufficiently prepared before we get in." In August, Klook raised $200 million from investors, including Goldman Sachs.

Unlike many travel websites, Klook, focuses on helping people decide what to do after they reach their destination, offering theme park tickets, rail passes and tours, mostly to customers in Asia. Bookings are forecast to reach $1 billion this year.

Ngai noted that younger travelers often rely on social media to pick a destination and are interested in "Instagram-able photos." Tours of the Demilitarized Zone separating North and South Korea and Kyoto Prefecture's Amanohashidate sandbar, rated one of Japan's three most scenic spots, are the two most popular excursions among Instagrammers, according to the company. Experiential tours -- sky diving, bungee jumping, camping -- are also favorites.

In all, Klook offers around 50,000 tours and activities. Another selling point is the site's mobile-friendly design. It is easy to find and book tours on a smartphone. QR codes serve as admission tickets, meaning customers have fewer bits of paper to keep track of during their trip.

Around half of Klook's customers "book trips at the last minute, or after arriving at their destination," Ngai said. The company also emphasizes value, refunding the difference if a customer finds a cheaper deal on a rival booking site.

Just under 80% of Klook's clients are in Asia, particularly Hong Kong and Thailand. Rising incomes in the region continue to lift demand for overseas travel, and Japan is where a growing number of tourists want to go. Visitors from Hong Kong to Japan jumped 21% on the year to 2.23 million in 2017, equivalent to 30% of the territory's population.

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