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Four travel apps for the tech-savvy tourist in Asia, from AR tours to car-booking systems

Four travel apps for the tech-savvy tourist in Asia, from AR tours to car-booking systems

As digital-hungry younger generations start to explore the world, glued to their smartphones, new start-ups are looking for ways to make holidays easier.

“Technology has helped the travel industry for both service providers and travellers in many ways, such as reducing costs and enhancing travellers‘ experience,” says Sakdidet Poolsawad, CEO and co-founder of Thailand-based travel app HandiGo.

Poolsawad says traditional travel agencies need to adapt, or face being left behind, with more than 70 per cent of travellers now booking services themselves online.

With Asia home to a mounting collection of innovative travel tech start-ups, here are four regional businesses who are using technology to aid travel.

Head to the Bac Ha Sunday Market in Vietnam. PHOTO: AFPTubudd

Vietnam is undergoing a travel boom with its large young population using their digital skills to tap into the tourism market.

Tubudd is an innovative online platform that buddies up travellers with locals to deliver authentic experiences.

The business is the brainchild of Vu Thai An. During a motorbike trip through Vietnam with two Canadian friends five years ago, she noticed many travellers were steering towards tourist hotspots, missing out on experiencing real Vietnamese life.

In 2017, she launched Tubudd, which connects travellers with knowledgeable locals. Visitors can search the site for “buddies” based on location, budget and interests. They act as guides, giving tourists a true taste of local life while introducing them to off-the-beaten-track spots on their home turf.

It currently has a network of more than 400 buddies throughout 15 provinces and cities in Vietnam, and has expanded to other destinations. These include Japan, Cambodia, Myanmar and South Korea, as well as several European countries.”Technology plays an important role in our everyday lives, including modern travel. This forces the tourism industry to upgrade,” Vu says.

See a real side of Vietnam with Tubudd app. PHOTO: PixabayHeyCars

A common headache when travelling is having to face hiked-up taxi fares. HeyCars aims to eliminate this. The brainchild of China-based Yuexing Travel Group allows users to arrange transport in a few simple steps.

With bookings made through the online platform ahead of travel, HeyCars is available in more than 50 countries worldwide.

When making a reservation, travellers can choose from a variety of chauffeur-driven vehicles. These range from budget to luxury, with private coaches available for groups of up to 53 people.

The service includes 24/7 customer service and free cancellation up to two days ahead of the booked service. As well as offering airport transfers, there is the option to hire a driver for the day, or the entire holiday.

Holidaymakers simply input their rough itinerary online and let their private driver take the stress out of getting around. 

HandiGo

Dubbed the pocket concierge, HandiGo aims to make travel in Thailand smoother for foreign visitors.

The company has partnered with a range of hotels, tour operators, restaurants, bars and public transport to enhance holiday experiences. By scanning a QR code, users can access a wealth of travel options on their smartphone.

For example, from your hotel room, you can book a session at the spa, a day trip, or room service through the app. And all services are available from anywhere in Thailand, meaning requests and bookings can be made while on the move.

The app is also available in several languages. Poolsawad has plans to roll it out to other countries. 

Visitors to Beijing’s Forbidden City Palace Museum can enjoy an elevated experience through a series of AR-driven initiatives. PHOTO: Video screengrab from Youtube/AFP Qiantech

Chinese start-up Qiantech is using augmented reality (AR) to enhance the travel experience. The company has teamed up with a series of tourist attractions, travel companies and China‘s mounting collection of smart cities – urban hubs that are created around pioneering technology, such as cashless payment systems and artificial intelligence traffic management systems – to provide engaging, interactive adventures for travellers.

For example, visitors to Beijing’s Forbidden City Palace Museum can enjoy an elevated experience through a series of AR-driven initiatives. This includes guided tours and souvenirs. QR codes at the museum‘s attractions can be scanned through an app on visitors‘ mobile phones. This brings up additional information, alternative photographs and AR videos that bring to life the stories behind the artefacts.

Innovative AR souvenirs include postcards and calendars containing images that when scanned through the mobile phone app come to life, retelling the history or story behind each image on your phone. For now, Qiantech only operates in China, but hopes to expand across Asia.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.