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Travel & Holiday

Sisters make it easy on road less travelled

Avid backpackers set up one-stop ticketing portal for overland transport
The Straits Times - May 5, 2012
By: Eisen Teo
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Sisters make it easy on road less travelled Sisters Kel (front) and Wyn Zhang are the founders of local travel start-up Roadhop. -- ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

SISTERS Kel and Wyn Zhang are avid backpackers, frequently travelling overland by bus, train or minivan.

But a decade of taking the road less travelled throughout Asia and America has taught them one thing: It can be chaotic on the ground.

There can be a dozen buses or trains serving one city, spreading out in all directions - and that's assuming they arrive and leave on time. For the greenhorn backpacker, figuring out the fastest, simplest yet cheapest route from Point A to B can be daunting.

That was why the Singapore Management University graduates, aged 30 and 25 respectively, decided to form their own travel company, called Roadhop, to allow travellers to do just that.

Their website,, allows intrepid explorers to search for ways of getting around overland in Peninsular Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines.

From the site, users can also book buses, trains, taxis and private vans for travel within Peninsular Malaysia. In a few weeks, bookings for taxis and vans in Thailand and Cambodia should open too.

Travellers can also look up tips on travelling within South-east Asian countries and contribute their own experiences.

Roadhop was two years in the making and cost $100,000 - half of which came from the sisters' savings and the rest as a grant from Spring Singapore.

The journey took so long, they said, because they had to thoroughly understand the land travel industry which, in the words of Ms Kel Zhang, is 'incredibly complex'.

'We had to get to know the dominant players and rub shoulders with the right people,' she said.

There was a new revelation at every turn. They found out that one of the largest bus companies in Malaysia, Konsortium Transnasional, had routes served by a consortium of bus companies.

And touts hanging about major bus terminals actually take bookings for all the buses in the terminal, and share information among themselves. They are not as bad as they sound, she said. 'If you are lost, they will give you directions. They usually give you a fixed price for tickets. They are actually quite friendly.'

Furthermore, the sisters found out that in Thailand and Cambodia, transport companies offer their services through hostels. The sisters plan to do just that in Malaysia.

They have confidence in the potential of Asia's land transport market. Industry experts have told them that it is worth about $9 billion.

'This industry will only grow,' said Kel. 'For instance, in Malaysia, buses go to far more places than planes do.'

The sisters currently work from their laptops - their 'best friends' - and are assisted by two Web designers and a student intern. They take turns to travel overseas every other week to meet contacts and vendors.

Despite taking two years to get Roadhop started, their Facebook page already has more than 3,500 likes, thanks to a social media campaign last year.

'I think a lot of start-ups overlook the importance of marketing,' added Kel. 'They don't do it early enough to make it work.'

The sisters' eventual goal is to have Roadhop cover the whole of South-east Asia. And they can't wait.

'Every moment we've had is memorable,' said Kel. 'And every moment in the future is going to be very exciting.


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