Clocking in decades long of experience in the tourism industry has put Mayflower Online Chief Technology Officer Cheah Kwan Cheong among the trailblazers of building some of Asia’s most prominent travel websites.
American singer Jon Bon Jovi once said “Nothing is as important as passion. No matter what you want to do with your life, be passionate.” Cheah Kwan Cheong is the man who exhibits similar energy through his works in the tourism digital world.
Behind the big build and friendly demeanour, Kwan Cheong or better known as KC, is the person behind the curtains that first build AirAsia.com back in 2002 who now delivers Malaysia’s leading travel e-commerce, Mayflower.com.my.
The unbelievable truth on how KC started out in this industry all hangs on his determination and passion in software engineering. When he was first approached to build AirAsia.com, KC interestingly revealed, “I did AirAsia.com on my own, without going for any class or training. When my ex-boss called me about this vacancy, there was nothing in-house. I had to take over from agency and build the website from scratch.”
The challenge is indisputable as KC did not come from a IT or computer background. Instead, KC graduated with a Degree in Mathematics from Universiti Putra Malaysia. To add, internet is rare and it has just been initiated everywhere back then. AirAsia online platform is build by a man who taught himself how to do programming, coding and scripts.
“I always tell my guys today to learn from experience and knowledge. It is something that no one can’t take away from you. One day when you move on with your job, you actually earn it and own it yourself.”
KC shared his extensive experience comes from his ten years stint with AirAsia, GDS platform Travelport and starting a business of his own before forming joint venture with Mayflower Online for digital travel business.
Business on Online Platform
“Travel industry is going through a change where you digitise your business or you’re out. The margin is getting lower and the cost is getting higher.” And the only way to offset the growing change is through doing more volume via online business.
Mayflower travel agency has more than over 50 years of history in the Malaysian tourism industry offering services from travel packages, hotels, flights, car rentals and etc. So, KC is brought in to elevate Mayflower traditional business onto digital platforms.
“Key objective is to digitise the business. Three years on, we have done over 300 times of businesses in terms of online volume”. KC’s passion in building the e-commerce platform followed with his business expertise makes him a professional in digitising conventional business.
“Mixing business and technology together is something I like to do, something that feels quite fun because when there are problems, there are also many ways to solve it. Even though you solve a small thing, it can make a lot of difference”
As Mayflower is leading the travel market in Malaysia, KC is idealistic in providing similar digital platform for other affiliate companies to standardise the entire industry digitally. “At the end of the day, it is the whole marketplace that the volume runs across. The one thing we can standardise is the platform.
So, even though it is a company we don’t own, they can still ride on our technology to do their business as we aim to build quality traffic to sustain for a long run.”
With the growth of online travel agencies and internet penetration around the world, KC is also working on an air travel commerce platform which helps airlines distribute tickets to global markets efficiently and cost effectively.
Travelling For The Man
Being an expert in the digital tourism industry, KC is a well-travelled man himself. As he said before, “we are the end users ourselves” on his tip to build both functional and attractive tourism and aviation websites.
In the interest of seeking motivation and pleasure, KC is very much a beach-goer. “I used to go to Redang island every year until I got married”, he reminiscences. The excitement tells that beach is very much his happy place to unwind.
His newfound favourite beach destination now is Hua Hin in Thailand. “The laidback town of Hua Hin gives you beach, good seafood and you’ll find everything you want [in one location] from anywhere else in Thailand.”
“It’s also a good place for family or company trip, and it’s not too far from Malaysia.” But in a surprising revelation, KC is happy to admit that his heart ultimately lies in Japan.
“During my time in Osaka, I stayed in Shinsaibashi and went to Kyoto for a day trip. Those few days, I walked an average of 20,000 steps per day. But I still think it was quite fun and cooling.” Now, KC waits for his chance to travel to Japan again.
For the other side of the world, his best idea on travelling in Europe is taking the hop-on hop-off city bus on the first day. “The bus brings you everywhere as an introduction. So on the second day, you can decide on where you want to spend your time visiting or go for sightseeing around the city.”
Text Jessy Wong • Photos Rick Cheah & Cheah Kwan Cheong