CNA938 Money Mind Interview With CEO, Joseph Ling
Vouch’s CEO and founder Joseph Ling joined CNA938 Money Mind hosts Stanley Leong and Hui Wong on 13 May 2022 to talk about the future of technology in the hospitality and travel industry. With travel borders starting to open up around the world, here were key highlights of the broadcast with Joseph.
Stanley: How has Vouch pivoted to support businesses in the travel industry (from airports to attractions to hotels to museums to restaurants to shopping malls)?
Joseph: We initially started out in retail and created a digital marketing platform for retailers. However, this did not work out very well for us, so we pivoted and went towards creating chatbots for businesses.
The big breakthrough came at the Singapore Tourism Board Hotel Innovation Challenge, and we started working with hotels. We realised that chatbots for hotels have a high return of investment, and that hospitality technology was a little behind compared to other industries. This was coupled with the severe labour crunch and changing guest trends, where guests wanted faster self-service systems, instead of calling the hotel for everything.
We realised that we had a market there, so we decided to focus on hospitality, helping to gain a deeper understanding of the industry and now we started building a fuller suite of products that cover the full range of the guest journey. From there, we thought, why not use the same technology for more verticals in the travel industry, so that’s where we started working with attractions like the Singapore Zoo, National Gallery and almost all the museums in Singapore. We are definitely looking at how we can do this for more verticals in the travel industry like shopping malls and transportation.
Hui Wong: You mentioned the use of chatbots, how does it benefit companies?
Joseph: In hospitality, a problem we observed was that both the front desk and call centre were often getting overloaded and overwhelmed with many questions from guests. We thus took this chatbot where it can help to answer about 80-90% of the questions that came through and that worked out really well. From there, we understood that guests do not just want their questions answered, they also wanted to do transactions such as “Can I get more towels”, “Can I order food”. So we started coming up with new products that were not just chatbots, but solutions that can directly address these issues as well.
Stanley: I’m assuming that you have to download an app in order to navigate through the different requests.
Joseph: Actually, this is one of the things that actually defined us at the start when we wanted to build accessible and intuitive platforms for guests. The first thing we realised was that if we want to get them moving away from the original behaviour of using the room phones, we needed to build something that was intuitive and easy to use for guests. The established behaviour from guests was to pick up the phone to call the front desk whenever they needed something.
When we first entered the industry, hotels were just catching up onto the whole app development craze and were pushing it very hard. Even though these apps have the same functionality as ours, their primary purpose was to encourage loyalty and these transactions were just a side benefit. If you are a guest staying for only 2-3 nights and you want to make a request, it is unlikely that you would download the app just to make such requests, they are more likely to use the room phone instead.
So one of the early steps we did was to make it as accessible as possible and we settled on a user interface of either a web app, which did not require an app download, guests only needed to scan a QR code. The other was going through chat apps that guests have already installed like Whatsapp or Facebook Messenger. This single insight got us to have a really high usage rate in the hotels that we work with, and overtime with product discovery and development, we started with the entire range of products for the guest experience journey.
Stanley: As we steadily recover from the pandemic, tell us more about the future role that technology will play in supporting hospitality, trade and travel as they navigate the evolving work/travel norms.
Joseph: I think the pandemic has really driven a lot of digitalisation in travel, and that has really opened up a lot of opportunities. When a user is using a digital platform, it is easier to understand the user journey and to act on that information.
With a digital platform, if a guest asks a question on the platform, the information can automatically be saved and tagged, so that the next time the same guest stays at the property, you can personalise and show to them what they are looking out for. What we do at Vouch is focused around how we can help hotels create a better guest experience for the guests and to use the data we collect through the digital platforms to make their stay even better.