LINE is on its way to becoming a ‘super-app’ that will offer services for the new experiential travel funnel, Venture Republic co-founder and CEO Kei Shibata told me recently. Venture Republic owns multiple online travel brands including LINE TRAVEL jp, largest travel metasearch/travel guide media in Japan.
Messaging apps have been on a meteoric rise as 87% of smartphones in APAC use a messaging app every month. While WhatsApp and Messenger take the cake as top messaging apps, LINE is ultra-popular in Japan, Taiwan, and Thailand. LINE recorded 200 million monthly active users and 77% of them use it everyday.
“A variety of different verticals and services.”
While LINE remains faithful to its core service, messaging, it has also added a number of services such as payment and insurance. In an exclusive interview, Shibata, said: “LINE is getting into a variety of different verticals and services. (Maybe like WeChat), it is now offering not only travel services but also shopping, food delivery, payment, news, insurance, jobs, music, comics, voice assistant, mobile phone / telcom… the list goes on.”
In September, Japan’s comms giant launched LINE Travel jp following the merger of Travel.jp and LINE Travel to offer a comprehensive one-stop service where users can search, compare and book domestic and overseas trips.
LINE Travel jp is one of the largest price comparison travel websites in Japan that will enable users to search through more than 250 travel companies and airlines for domestic and overseas hotels, package tours, and flights, and compare prices to find the best deal.
Because the service is directly accessible through LINE without the need to install a separate app, this enables users to be more spontaneous when the urge to travel strikes while chatting with friends for instance, and look up hotels and other details right away.
New experiential travel funnel
At a panel discussion at WiT Conference, Kei Shibata showed off the Inspire-Research-Plan & Book-Explore-Share funnel. The new funnel revealed that travellers no longer just plan, book and go. People want inspiration, ideas and travel tips before booking their trip.
“I want to be helped on the ideas”
Shibata confirmed to me that LINE has been tinkering on the aforementioned funnel since 2010 paying their attention to the upper funnels (inspire, research and plan). The motivation behind this is when they heard their users saying: “Metasearch is great but it only works when I know where/when exactly I travel to. I want to be helped on the ideas of destinations, accommodation.”
Shibata continued: “As a result, we decided to invest on content that can address those demands/concerns. Since then, we have published over 28,000 articles on destinations, vacation packages, hotels, Airbnbs to the date which are written by over 500 travel experts and enthusiasts (many of them are travel bloggers) we networked.”
“Today, our content service has become a very popular and vital part of our business. Together with metasearch and content services, our LINE Travel jp is generating 20 million monthly users growing at 50% YoY.”
He added: “Fast forward, we started paying attention to both upper/down funnels in the last 12 months. Triggers are:
a) The change of user behaviours’ particularly younger generations including millennials who tend to use a few “SuperApps” heavily to do everything.
b) The rise of digitisation of in-destination activities. In a nutshell, we started feeling the limitations of reaching/serving to the users in every different funnel via a web platform.”
LINE is not the only company exploring and capitalising on this new funnel. Google also discussed the same concept – Dream-Shop-Buy-Experience-Share travel funnel. Some companies like Ctrip are taking the whole funnel, while others like Expedia focus on a particular segment.
But wait, there’s more
LINE Travel jp aims to enable users to plan trips seamlessly within LINE by sending them messages from the LINE Travel Official Account about trip recommendations and trending topics featured on travel TV shows, allowing them to use LINE to search for and compare prices of flight tickets and hotels, and enabling them to find the best deals for their trip.
Shibata said users who travel together create their own chat room on LINE. The company will send them relevant content articles powered by AI chatbot which helps them book their hotels, local tours and activities, restaurants. When they are travelling, if / when the weather changes suddenly, LINE would automatically send another set of recommendations on the things to do like some indoor activities.
Features will be released in phases, starting with searching for and comparing the prices of accommodations in Japan and overseas. Flight comparison launched in October, followed by comparing domestic and international package tours in December.
“First metasearch service in the world in which users can earn loyalty points”
LINE also rolled rewards system where users can earn points by searching and booking through the app. “It’s perhaps the first metasearch service in the world in which users can earn (LINE) loyalty points when they search/book through us. We are planning on launching another metasearch services on tour packages in the next three months. More services will be announced later on,” Shibata said.