It used to be that most thrill seekers had to rely on word of mouth and random blog posts to plan adrenaline-pumping holidays. But now, the next great adventure could be just a click away with a new online platform.
Homegrown Adventoro helps people discover and book adventure-based tours and activities. The site currently lists over 400 tours in Malaysia, with plans to expand listings across South-East Asia this year.
The way founder and chief executive officer Ken Lau sees it, there’s no better place poised for an adventurous getaway than right here in this country and region.
“We have a lot of adventure activities to offer. Our archipelago is blessed with many nice islands and national parks,” he says during an interview at Adventoro’s office in Petaling Jaya, Selangor.
The man cites examples like the world-renowned Sipadan Island in Sabah and Bako National Park in Sarawak. What’s lacking though, seems to be a sense of awareness.
“Not enough has been done to promote the destinations around the region,” Lau laments, adding that sourcing for information can be a laborious process.
That’s where Adventoro comes in by listing various adventure experiences in one site. Look at it as the platform being ambassadors for adventure tourism in Malaysia and the South-East Asia region, Lau enthuses.
Adventoro joins a growing list of local travel start-ups like Lokalocal, Touristly and Staydilly. As far as staying distinctive, Lau believes Adventoro is the first of its kind in Malaysia in terms of adventure-based tourism.
But operating an e-commerce business within the adventure tourism sphere isn’t as straightforward as say, an urban tours online platform.
Ironically for a virtual travel platform, Internet and mobile cellular connectivity can be a hindrance at times.
“Some operators we work with operate out of the office. They could be out in the river or the mountain for most of the time with limited connectivity,” Lau shares.
And then there’s the matter of proper regulation for adventure activities to look into.
The operators – sourced through online referrals, travellers’ referrals and ground visits – must be legitimate.
“The operators are required to be licensed. At the same time, adventure operators need a different type of licence. A city guide cannot run a jungle one,” Lau says.
“For adventure tourism, hiking, island and eco tourism all have its own licenses. We need to make sure that the guides are qualified,” he adds, referring to the aspect of safety often tagged with such activities.
In fact, Lau has had to drop some operators for not meeting the requirements.
Of course, queries are aplenty when it comes to the logistics and what not of adventure activities.
“When it comes to adventure, people tend to have many questions. ‘Is it suitable for XYZ’ or ‘Can my kids do this?’,” he offers, adding that at least 90% of Adventoro users will pose questions via the site’s concierge service before making a booking.
The Global Adventure Tourism Market 2016-2020 report indicated that adventure tourism – largely boosted by low-cost airlines – is expected to grow at a rate of nearly 46% by 2020.
And in its 2014 Global Report on Adventure Tourism, the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) revealed that adventure tourists will be seeking destinations previously undiscovered.
Is Malaysia strong enough to compete for a share in this thriving market?
“The product itself is fantastic,” he says, referring to the various local attractions. “The combination of wildlife and how our whole archipelago is formed offers many diving and caving sites.”
Although, he concedes that there’s still a fair bit to go in terms of promoting the destinations.
“Marketing our adventure destinations is about giving its unique selling point. It’s about how you position a product,” he shares.
Using Taman Negara as an example, Lau says the national park’s popularity is rooted in its global reputation as the “rainforest that’s older than the Amazon” and “home to the longest canopy walk”.
He bills Sky Mirror in Sasaran, Kuala Selangor, as another recent success story in the country’s adventure tourism scene.
Named after its mirror-like reflection of the sky, the island has been dubbed the Salar de Uyuni of Malaysia – after a similar natural wonder in Bolivia.
When it comes to making a good adventure tourism product, Lau says it boils down to creating “bucket list-worthy activities”.
“For example, Mount Kinabalu is rated as one of the top mountains to climb by established publishers,” he says, adding that climbers would certainly put it on their to-do list with such a reputation.
Adventoro segregates the tours on its site into six categories: Islands; River and water sports; Wildlife and jungle; Culinary and gastronomy; Caving and hiking; Cultural and traditional; and, Sightseeing and attractions.
That segregation is in part due to the diverse wants of travellers, Ken says.
“If you break it down into segments of personas, you realise that different groups of people want different things.
“We observe that locals tend to want to do something nearby that they can go on a weekend basis. Meanwhile, international tourists tend to be more bucket list-centric in that they want to visit places like Mount Kinabalu and Taman Negara,” he reveals.
According to Lau, Sabah and Sarawak are not so popular with Malaysians residing in the peninsular.
“The general feedback is that once Malaysans see an airplane, they want to stamp the passport and go to some other country,” he says with a laugh.
What’s for certain, though, is that adventure tourism is poised for growth – and Adventoro wants to make more destinations and activities available to travellers.
“Adventure tourism requires more effort and knowledge. But we are bearing the flag to promote and curate experiences,” Lau concludes.