by Tech in Asia
In Sapporo, the capital of Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido, the average February temperature is about 0 degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit). Despite the frigid weather, Sapporo’s annual Yuki Matsuri (Snow Festival) attracts 2 million visitors from around the world who come to marvel at snow and ice sculptures, slurp down miso ramen, and imbibe at the city’s numerous beer halls.
A surprising number of those foreign visitors are coming from Thailand, where the capital city of Bangkok averages a sweltering 31 degrees C (88 degrees F) during the same month. Nearly 100,000 Thai tourists visited Sapporo in fiscal 2013 – compared to 37,000 in fiscal 2012. That number is expected to continue growing, and a small startup based a stone’s throw from the Snow Festival grounds is poised to be their one-stop-shop for local tourism.
Trippino Hokkaido is a Thai-language app (available on both iOS and Android) that connects Thai tourists to sightseeing spots, restaurants, nightlife, and shopping across Hokkaido. It launched on February 25.
As far as total visitors to Hokkaido, Thailand ranks fifth behind Taiwan, South Korea, China, and Hong Kong. Yuta Umeki, Trippino’s director, explains to Tech in Asia why his startup is – at least for now – solely focused on visitors from Thailand.
“While there is existing support for Chinese speakers, tourism infrastructure for Thai people is insufficient in Hokkaido,” he says. “Recent numbers show that the numbers of Thai tourists is already increasing, and that number is set to be given a major boost by [low-cost carrier] AirAsia X.”
The Thai division of AirAsia X announced last month that it will begin offering a daily direct flight from Bangkok to Hokkaido’s New Chitose Airport, on the outskirts of Sapporo. Thai Airways, Thailand’s domestic flag carrier, held a monopoly on BKK to CTS flights for the past two years. From March 26, Thai AirAsia X will also add a second daily flight to Tokyo and make its five-days-a-week flight to Osaka a daily departure.
Umeki says the apps have been downloaded a total of 2,000 times. The startup’s goal is to capture 60 to 70 percent of all inbound Thai tourists. If successful, the Trippino team may consider localizing the service for visitors from Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China.
“We don’t have a lot of resources outside of Hokkaido,” Umeki says. “We only have 11 staff members, so we want to focus on the local market first.”
Capitalizing on the sticker craze
Other than being the only Thai-specific app for Hokkaido tourism, Trippino offers many of the standard features found in other travel apps. It connects to Facebook and allows users to like local businesses and attractions, and also shows nearby landmarks and popular locales as icons on a map which can be tapped to reveal the exact address, phone number, opening/closing times, and specialty (i.e. a bar that serves local sake or a shop that sells ski gear). Users can also select curated itineraries that suggest places to go and things to do over a set period of time.
Trippino also allows users to customize what they see by sorting map icons into categories: View, Eat, Play, Nightlife, Shopping, and Stay. If you’ve already booked a hotel and you’re too exhausted to dance the night away, you can uncheck Stay and Nightlife to avoid highlighting hotels and nightclubs on your map. Users can also browse destinations by popularity, proximity, and recently-added.
The apps don’t offer Thai translations of restaurant or bar items, though another Sapporo-based startup might have that covered. Umeki says that, for now, Thai tourists can avoid the language barrier by pointing at photos of popular items in the app’s dining and drinking listings. He hopes to convince partner businesses to offer translated menus in the future.
Trippino’s most promising feature, and what sets it apart from your run-of-the-mill travel app, is its clever take on two major pop culture phenomena: the digital sticker craze popularized by blockbuster Asian messaging apps like Line and WeChat and Thailand’s obsession with selfies. The app also offers an in-app camera feature, loaded with cute stickers that show off Hokkaido’s local charm. But the startup is currently in talks with several businesses – including hotels, department stores, onsen (hot spring) resorts, and restaurants – to offer special promotions for users who add branded stickers to their photos and share them on social media.
Here’s a hypothetical situation: A user finds a sushi restaurant offering the sticker promotion on Trippino’s map. They order some nigiri and maki and snap a selfie with the chef using the embedded camera function. They add a custom sticker – let’s say a cutesy take on the restaurant’s logo – to their picture and post it on Instagram. When they ask for the bill, they show the photo on their Instagram feed and receive a ten percent discount.
“When I lived in Thailand, I noticed that Thai people love taking selfies and adding stickers and filters to them before sharing on [social media],” Umeki says. “So we think the photo and sticker part of the app is the most important for Thai tourists. It’s promoting the business and telling other users about it – a win-win situation for both parties.”
Trippino offers six-month and one-year plans for partner businesses that wish to appear on the app, but didn’t share details on pricing plans. The startup plans to market its service in in-flight magazines on flights from Bangkok to Sapporo and it’s already been featured on a nationally-broadcast Thai travel show.
Gear8, Trippino’s parent company, was founded as an internet marketing and design company in 2009. Trippino exists as an internal startup, with half of its undisclosed funding coming from Gear8 and the remainder provided by a government-sponsored fund for small and medium enterprises.
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