Expanding minds globally through local networks
Imagine being able to explore the world and get paid for it too. Sounds almost too good to be true? But Yeoh Siew Hoon has managed to create that exact job description for herself.
Her company, Web in Travel (WIT), is a community for techies, geeks and online travel professionals who love to explore. Their global events gather the greatest minds in the travel tech industry with the aim of expanding horizons and reimagining travel.
From her beginnings as a crime reporter in her hometown of Penang, Malaysia, where she spent nights at the mortuary and chased policemen for stories, writing has always been her passion. Her inquisitive nature and love for journalism led her to Kuala Lumpur and then to Hong Kong, where she ran a trade publication.
In the mid-90s, her journey landed her in Singapore, where her idea of launching a travel newspaper “had the opportunity to be bigger’’.
“At the time, [Singapore] had the beginnings of an international media environment,’’ says Yeoh. “The travel newspaper I wanted to set up was about Asia, and Singapore was a natural hub for that.”
A few years later, Yeoh saw how the wave of technology was encroaching into the media space. Way ahead of the game in spotting how the Internet would affect travel and the way content would be devoured, Yeoh founded WIT in 2005.
“I wanted to learn about it [technology],’’ says Yeoh. “That’s how I do things. If I want to learn about something, I go out and do it.”
Fast forward 12 years and WIT’s last event at Marina Bay Sands in 2016 attracted more than 500 attendees with panellists including Steve Hafner, CEO of Kayak, and Jenny Wu, chief strategy officer at China’s largest travel brand, Ctrip. In 2014, the company was sold to the US travel media company, Northstar Travel Group.
The company has grown to stage conferences in Indonesia, Australia, Japan, Seoul, Thailand and Hong Kong, to name just a few. And just last year, despite the uncertainties surrounding Brexit, WIT Europe intrepidly made its debut in London just days after the vote, demonstrating the company’s confidence in their product. Some of WIT’s clients include Google, Facebook, travel agency website Expedia, Booking.com and TripAdvisor.
One big picture
On how she got into the business events industry, Yeoh says: “Events are an extension of journalism really – it’s just content delivered in a different way. I see content as a very holistic thing, and I wanted to create something that would remind people why they were travelling in the first place– just that how they were doing it had changed, and would change.”
Being so passionate about her career, Yeoh doesn’t view her life in compartments.
“I tend to see life as one big picture,’’ she comments. “To me, travelling is my life and travelling is also my work. There are no walls between the two.”
“One of the things I often do when I travel for what they call business is to make it a point to extend the trip and take a few days to (get to know) the place.”
This fluidity between work and play has worked well for Yeoh, earning her a few accolades along the way, including Tourism Entrepreneur of the Year, awarded by the Singapore Tourism Board in 2014.
Through her work, Yeoh gets to meet a lot of start-ups, and in order to give herself “an excuse to work with young people”, she started Tern, a travel careers event to help tourism professionals, whether they want to be startups or hold corporate jobs or be a freelancer, build meaningful careers in travel.
Local relationships, local networks
One piece of advice that she shares with start-ups in Singapore is to “get to know the local culture”.
“Build local relationships and local networks,’’ advises Yeoh. “Go as local as you can so that you can build a truly global business.”
Speaking from experience, Yeoh already has a breadth of local connections, built through her years as a travel journalist, before founding WIT. Backing from the government also proved useful as the Singapore Tourism Board recognised the event’s potential and supported WIT for the first three years.
“Unlike places that are very scattered, the beauty about Singapore is that it’s small in size so it’s a good place to start, but it can be big if you think big,” says Yeoh. “Because it’s quite easy to make contacts and build networks here, these open your business to opportunities globally.’’
Destination of passion
When she’s not jetting off to exotic locations, Yeoh’s global connections also mean lots of visitors from abroad.
“There is just so much going on,” says Yeoh, who doesn’t have prescribed tourist spots. “There is always an event or an art exhibition. I enjoy accompanying visitors because sometimes seeing these events through other people’s perspectives makes you appreciate what you have more.”
In terms of what sort of journey her passion is bringing her on, Yeoh is not afraid to admit that she’s still unsure.
“All I know is I love to create content that sparks ideas in people, and I love to be able to influence the way people learn from each other and build networks,” she says. “I’m still trying to figure out what the true outcome of my passion is. Where will it bring me?”
And that journey of discovery is an exciting prospect for this intrepid traveler driven by wanderlust.