We caught up with Christina Suriadjaja, the woman behind the online travel platform Travelio that allows travelers to haggle on their accommodation price.
Born into a very prominent business family in Indonesia, Christina didn’t take the usual path of going directly to the family business upon graduation. Armed with degrees from USC, Stanford, and Cornell, she decided to first learn the ropes and gain experience in the corporate world by working for highly regarded organizations such as Intercontinental Group, AXA, and Ernst & Young.
It was in 2014 that she decided to take her first leap into entrepreneurship by starting Travelio, an online accommodation booking company in Indonesia that allows users to negotiate prices directly with hotels. To illustrate how the process works, once the user clicks on “Coba Tawar” (which literally means “try and negotiate”), and enter their desired price, one of three things may happen: it may be auto-rejected, auto-accepted, or go into a manual approval process whereby the hotel will decide within a 24 hour period whether or not to accept the offer.
This is a unique and fresh idea as it allows the hotel to adjust their price according to the occupancy rate, and at the same time allows travelers to possibly get a lower price, creating a win-win transaction.
Human Asia caught up with Christina at a café near her office in Jakarta.
How did the idea for Travelio first come about?
Christina: It started off as an undergraduate university project at USC in which the theme was how to develop business budget hotels. The project became a reality with the founding of Batiqa Hotel, a 3-star hotel chain with 4-star facilities across Indonesia.
At the same time, we started thinking about online booking concepts in June 2014. At the time, we thought about creating an auction concept for hotels similar to Priceline. We decided to pivot into Travelio because the auction concept would not work in Indonesia as there is no reliable standard for hotel rating in the country.
Can you talk a bit about your co-founders and how you met them?
Christina: There are two other cofounders, Hendry Rusli and Furia Agustinus. I met Hendry when he sold his hotel booking software to Batiqa Hotel. He is currently the CTO and the technology brain behind Travelio. I met Furia as he works for my father’s group company. He is currently responsible for finances at Travelio.
Tell us more about this price negotiation model which is unique to Travelio. What added value are you giving to customers?
Christina: There is definitely a value proposition in our Tawar Menawar (price negotiation) model for both users and suppliers. Rate parity on the internet does exist and every online travel agent has to display the exact price given by the hotel.
At Travelio however, we only display an indicative price. When a customer hits the Coba Tawar button and makes a bid in a range that is acceptable to the hotel, the system will automatically accept it. If the customer bids lower than a certain lower bound threshold, the system will auto-reject it. And if the customer bids between these two prices, the system will go into manual approval mode where it defers the decision to the hotel.
In effect, the hotels can dynamically set their price depending on that day’s occupancy level, instead of giving a fixed price to agents 6 months in advance. At the same time, customers can get a lower price than those published elsewhere.
How many hotels and accommodations have signed up with Travelio?
Christina: Right now as of July 2016, around 13,000 suppliers. In the next two years, we aim to have more than 50,000 suppliers.
Which countries and region are you targeting?
Christina: Right now, we are all over Asia except Cambodia and India. Our main focus is still domestic within Indonesia where we have the first mover’s advantage. In addition, we also focus on inbound travelers to Southeast Asia.
Biggest direct competitor?
Christina: The biggest player in the market is Traveloka but we are not head-to-head with them since we only focus on the accommodation segment. From that perspective, our biggest competitor is probably Airbnb.
Having said that, we cover both hotels and private accommodations whereas Airbnb only covers private. That, along with the price negotiation model is how we differentiate Travelio from others.
How big is the private accommodation rental market in Indonesia?
Christina: My feeling is that in the next 2 or 3 years, it will boom. The concept of renting private apartments is not new in Indonesia, but it is mainly done offline. There is no go-to site online and that’s the gap we want to fill.
Biggest challenge you face daily as an entrepreneur?
Christina: Managing people and time are difficult. You have to deal with multiple targets – your own target, the target you set your employees, and your investors’ target. Technical issues are generally manageable, but you really have to invest time nurturing people.
Interests outside of work?
Christina: I have always been interested in sports, and I represented Singapore in netball and soccer in junior international competitions for 3 years.
What’s a typical day for Christina Suriadjaja?
Christina: This year has been constant traveling overseas to raise funds, and there is hardly a time when I am in Jakarta two weekends in a row.
If you could turn back time, what things would you do differently?
Christina: I would be more active in trying to raise funds earlier, as it would help us grow bigger faster.
Advice for young aspiring entrepreneurs?
Christina: If you’re not comfortable with the responsibility of having employees and their families rely on you for their wellbeing, then don’t start a business and hire employees. Once you start hiring people, it’s a huge responsibility.
Having said that, it’s also very inspiring and enlightening knowing that you can provide for them and that’s what keeps me going each day.
What exciting things can we expect from Travelio in the near future?
Christina: Well, I feel that up to now we have achieved with Travelio more than I ever imagined. But do follow us for an exciting announcement in the near future.
Human Asia reports that Travelio has recently closed a $2 million pre-Series A funding, led by Gobi Partners.