ACCORDING to GWI’s report on the global wellness economy, wellness tourism reached a record $720 billion in 2019 but then took a devastating dive when the pandemic happened in 2020, falling to $436 billion. With the world starting to open up again, GWI forecasts that the market will reach $817 billion in 2022 and soar to a whopping $1.3 trillion by 2025 – the fastest growth rate of any wellness market through 2025.
Those numbers are music to the ears of the many wellness-based startups in Asia, one of which is a relatively new company called Trambellir. Housed in Malaysia, Trambellir is an online marketplace for all kinds of wellness solutions – from simple mani-pedis at the local spa to full-blown surgeries at independent clinics and hospitals.
“We have studied and analysed the failures of medical tourism business for the past 10 years, and not only medical tourism itself but the commercialisation of it and found three major reasons why they fail. Low conversion rate, high customer support labour costs, and pricing,” said So Iizuka, founder and CEO of Trambellir.
Speaking to WiT, he also added that, “To succeed, it’s better to stay on as a local coordinator or travel agency-style business provider, but it’s not globally expandable.”
Hence, Iizuka’s ultimate goal for the brand is to expand the definition of medical tourism and optimise the solution to disrupt the medical tourism business. Those aspirations are in line with recent reports by ILTM (International Luxury Travel Market) which highlight a surge in wellness tourism in the post-pandemic landscape. Wellness is a key driver in planning slow, relaxing holidays, with 6 out of 10 luxury travellers in APAC, and 8 out of 10 in China, saying that health and wellness is a big factor in making travel decisions.
While Trambellir operates out of Malaysia, the platform lists wellness services on a global scale – with providers situated in Indonesia, Japan, Thailand, and at the time of writing, one listing in Buenos Aires, Argentina. These locations are based on market research by So and his team during the pandemic in an effort to identify their best target groups.
“Fortunately or maybe unfortunately, we had tons of time during the pandemic period to analyse the best combination of target market and customers from our organic transactions for past two years,” said So. “We captured demand from Singapore, US and Australia travellers going to Thailand and Bali to enrich their itineraries with treatments for their health, wellness and beauty. That’s how we target on a B2C basis.”
Another noteworthy milestone in Trambellir’s journey is its partnership with MHTC (Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council). First initiated and established in 2005 by the Ministry of Health Malaysia (MOH), MHTC carries the mandate as the country’s curator for the healthcare travel scene. In other words, MHTC helps create partnerships locally and globally to promote the healthcare travel industry of Malaysia.
Iizuka explained, “One of our advisors connected us with MHTC and Ministry of Health to deeply analyse customer pain points. We signed the MOU with MHTC as a digital partner in July to improve awareness of Malaysia as a medical tourism destination and promote inbound medical travelers to Malaysia from all over the world.”
Iizuka added that via Trambellir, the MHTC has adopted a gadget called Pocketalk, a tiny translator that’s popular in Japan, to bridge the language barrier between locals and wellness tourists. The device currently translates 75 spoken languages and dialects and is being used at MHTC’s member medical institutions as well as its concierge counters at KLIA, KLIA 2, and Penang International Airport . “It’s undeniable that one of the most crucial parts of our customer journey in both their experience at the medical institutions is to support and help break through our customers’ language barrier challenges as well.”
Badges of honor and trendy tech aside, running a platform like this isn’t without its challenges. For one, the idea of wellness comes with an inherent expectation of safety – one that needs to be almost guaranteed when the health of the customer is involved. While Iizuka says the onus is mostly on the respective providers to assure a customer of its standards and quality at the moment, Trambellir does do quick scans for proper documents, licenses, and even insurance when listing a business on its platform. Other challenges include, almost unsurprisingly, availability of funds and resources to scale the company.
“We are facing challenges, like for fundraising, and our team is still small. To handle the tsunami of inquiries these days, our support team needs to be enhanced and we like to keep improving the product and inventory. We are keen to explore opportunities with investors.”
Regardless, So Iizuka’s plans for Trambellir are two-pronged and quite remarkable. Firstly, he wants Trambellir to turn into a super-app ala Grab, Uber, and TripAdvisor within the next five years. Secondly, he’d like for Trambellir to be listed by doing the IPO in Japan as like a first startup from Malaysia to do an IPO at the Tokyo Stock market exchange.
Those are grand aspirations, but if you once again look at the numbers we opened the article with, it may not be as hefty as it sounds.
“I think that pandemic has surely opened our eyes that prevention is crucial, right? And it’s about time we reconceptualised health management to the next level to include Sustainable Development Goals.”
Trambellir made it to the Semi-Finals of the Global Startup Pitch 2022, by Phocuswright and WiT.