Efficiency will triumph, tours and activities will be healthier after Covid: Baidi Li wants to bring the luck of Magpie to APAC

This week, Magpie Travel, the San Francisco-based company offering content management solutions for the tours & activities sector, announced the appointment of Baidi Li as head of growth initiatives. Until recently, Li had been a regional director at Viator, a leading company in the sector.

CEO Christian Watts said, “Baidi brings an enormous
amount of experience to the company. Importantly, she understands the
challenges that content management poses for OTAs and resellers. We’ve built
the Magpie system to deliver substantial benefits to operators, but we know
that the benefits are even more significant for resellers who are managing tens
of thousands of products, constantly focused on maintaining content quality,
and always seeking new and interesting operators.”

Watts says Li will concentrate on new product initiatives, and also provide Magpie with a much-needed focus on the vast Asia Pacific region. “Operators throughout Asia Pacific are gearing up for a return to normal operations, and they have an enormous amount of work to do preparing their content for distribution, including updating every single product with Covid-safe information. Magpie can help; having Baidi in the region will allow us to provide the required focus,” he said.

“The right product, the right time, the right place and most importantly with the right bunch of people,” Baidi Li on why she joined Magpie Travel.

Yeoh Siew Hoon caught up with Baidi Li on her new role, what she wants to achieve and how she sees the tours and activities sector playing out in Asia.

Q:
Why Magpie Travel?

The right product,
the right time, the right place and most importantly with the right bunch of
people.

Magpie is the missing
piece in my career journey that I’ve been searching for. In the past 10+ years,
I have experienced both sides of the coin: OTA and operator. Naturally Magpie
is this much-needed innovative technology, which connects them to each other.
In times of a crisis, a unified tech solution is becoming more critical than
ever. Magpie is onto something big.

I always remind
myself to stay true to my passion: Connect the people through travel, despite
the devastating state our industry is in. This is the one thing I do and I do
it well. I am excited to work with a like-minded Magpie team to restart travel
together.

Q:
Why does content matter even more now?

With close to zero
bookings and a massive reduction in work force during Covid, tours and activities
(T&A)  businesses need to ditch their
extremely manual, antiquated procedures (from contracting to content
management) to automate everything they can. Efficiency helps them to stay
afloat right now.

Recently, we have
seen Viator introduce new standards and fees. That came about because the
quality – product descriptions, images, completeness of information – of many
products on their platform had fallen away over time. Why? Because it’s too
hard for operators to maintain their content with more than a few resellers.
The process is too manual. Imagine you have to manually update one piece of
health and safety protocol information for hundreds of products across 20+
different resellers’ sites? It cries out for a cloud-based, centralised
solution.

Q:
The industry will definitely be smaller after this. Who will survive? What
types of businesses?

Efficient ones! The
ones who realise they have to use smart tech solutions to reduce their costs
and allow them to spin up new distribution partners, materialize new product
ideas and attract new demographics.

Q: The big ones – TripAdvisor, Booking.com – all made cuts to tours and activities even before Covid hit, especially on the supply and relationships side. This pandemic has forced companies to go back and focus on their core. Is this good for specialists such as GetYourGuide and Klook, for example?

Unfortunately, it’s logical and strategic to make such cuts after such an aggressive push to expand the marketplace to where it is today (400k+ bookable experiences!). I believe Viator has completed its mission transforming the T&A sector: The playing field is now levelled and for the most part, the operators have developed a good level of OTA literacy. In the meantime, 110+ T&A OTAs emerged over time.

With that said, you
will still be lost in the sea of sameness when it comes to T&A product
shopping. Whether it’s Klook, GetYourGuide or Viator, ultimately it all comes
down to how effective it is to acquire and retain customers, how well the
product content will be presented and converted, and how low the costs are to
support such products.

Q:
Even Traveloka is saying it will focus on accommodation and it will not be
creating its own unique products, but will focus on selling others.

In my opinion, this
is a rational approach by Traveloka. Compared with their other more lucrative
business verticals, it’s lower margin and higher labor intensity to sell tours
and activities. There aren’t even any APIs until now. Imagine having to go out
and contract and load products one by one. It’s why Booking.com also abandoned
their efforts in this space. On the other hand, it does clear the air for the
T&A focused OTAs to concentrate on product quality and uniqueness rather
than a price war. This also leads to many partnership opportunities for other
players in the ecosystems.

Q:
We’ve seen Klook double down on domestic tourism – even in Singapore. What’s
your take on this?

It’s sensible: International comes back when it comes back. It’s easy to re-focus on international when it makes sense. Domestic is here now, and it won’t go away long term, so why not. I have to admit like many others, I was a bit sceptical about domestic tourism in Singapore. Thanks to STB’s #SingapoRediscovers campaign, I changed my perspective. I’ve had an amazing staycation weekend at Marina Bay Sands with my family and an adventurous kayaking fishing trip by the East Coast. Look at this big flathead I caught! That’s the Singapore I am rediscovering. Cruising to the Southern Islands is what I am heading next.

Baidi Li with the big flathead she caught on her fishing trip along Singapore’s East Coast.

Q: Local tours and activities providers in Asia seem to be faring pretty well in the pandemic – KK Day, Veltra. Voyagin has been absorbed into Rakuten. How do you see the tours and activities space play out in Asia?

History is a good
guide, I think. After each big “event”: 9/11, SARS, etc, travellers have become
more conscious of the brand, the value, the safety, the convenience and the
importance of forward planning. A certain level of consolidation and
recalibration is expected to happen. That trend is making the space healthier
for both operators and resellers in Asia.

Q:
What do you hope to achieve with Magpie Travel in Asia Pacific?

That’s really clear:
we are here to help operators get their content “ready for prime time”, and
find the very best distribution partners for their particular products. For
resellers, to help them locate and onboard new products that are high quality,
and to do that in a really efficient, low-cost manner. As countries in Asia Pacific
seem to be coming out of Covid faster than Europe or the US, the time is right
to focus our attention in this region.

What’s more, Magpie
is the bird which symbolises love, luck and happiness in many Asian cultures.
Needless to say, we could all use Magpie for some better luck in 2020.

Featured image credit: MikeLane45/Getty Images

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