#Asia Can these young guns change status quo of bus booking in the Philippines?


Online bus ticket booking has been around since 2013, but adoption has been slower than rush-hour Manila traffic. Can there be disruption?


A bus on Manila’s main highway

With the holiday break coming, millions of Filipinos are getting ready to go home to the provinces to spend time with their families. Many of them will be riding buses, which usually means trooping to the bus station early and hoping to get seats on the next trip.

One can book in advance, of course, over the phone or by heading to the bus terminals ahead of time, but with traffic in Metro Manila even worse during the holiday rush and with the limitations of doing business over the telephone, this is prospectively just as much of a hassle as the actual trip. Even getting to the bus terminal could take as long as the bus ride if you try to do it over the lunch break.

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“Reservations are usually limited to visiting the terminals, and existing booking sites online require a three-day waiting period just to confirm if buses have seats  available, so reservations aren’t even final yet,” Mirra Reyes, Co-founder of bus booking startup Biyaheroes and a frequent commuter, says in an email to e27.

This, she says, is what prompted her and other co-founders to start the business.

But online bus booking services are nothing new. One such service, PinoyTravel, has been around since 2013 and can even help customers book ferry tickets. Unfortunately, the idea of booking bus tickets online has yet to gain widespread acceptance as Uber and GrabCar have.

“Uber and Grab have deep advertising pockets — we don’t. Adoption will be bigger if we advertise more. We plan to do more advertising maybe by mid next year, when we’ve signed up more companies,” says Au Soriano, Founder and CEO of PinoyTravel.

Despite that, she says, Pinoy Travel’s user base has been growing steadily. “We grew by 500 per cent [since launch], but this is driven by the number of seats and bus companies we are selling. We are still in the infancy stage, so we are not yet seeing the right numbers here,” she adds.

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One factor may be that many bus companies are content with doing business the way they have been doing it for decades. The holiday rush — aside from Christmas, many Filipinos also go home to the provinces for Lent and for All Souls’ Day — will always mean packed buses and passengers have little choice but to fall in line at the ticket booth.

“It’s very challenging [to sell the idea] since public transport is an institution with its own mindset. They’re very traditional and already established. Most of them have been around even before we were born, so to come up to them and tell them that, ‘Hey, we have a better idea!’ challenges the core of how they do things and even the way they think,” Reyes says.

The startup has already partnered with Partas Transportation Co., which travels to and from Northern Luzon. Bookings can be made on the Biyaheroes site or through the bus company’s Facebook page.

“Partas is the first bus line to go live, and we have worked closely with its operations and management for this collaborative partnership to happen. By the first quarter of next year, more bus lines and routes will be live and available for online reservations,” Reyes says.

Going by PinoyTravel’s experience, bus companies have slowly been coming around. It already has partnerships with 13 bus companies and expects to sign up more in the future.

“[It] has become easier to convince the bus companies to sign up with us [compared to in 2013], so that means they are seeing the value of having us selling their tickets online. Actually, they know that this is the future, and the proposition of PinoyTravel works well with their existing processes,” Soriano says. PinoyTravel allows booking through its Android app and through its website.

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One factor that could be holding up adoption is the payment options available to travellers.

Currently, PinoyTravel accepts booking payments through credit card and debit card payments via PayPal as well as through online banking and bank deposits through DragonPay. Over-the-counter payments are also accepted. “We’ll continue to provide more payment options for your convenience,” it promises on its website.

Biyaheroes, meanwhile, accepts payments through “mobile banking, over-the-counter deposit and payment centres such as LBC, Cebuana Llhullier, SM Bills Payment through DragonPay.”

Although these options are more convenient than going to the bus terminals, travellers who are unbanked or are too busy to go to the nearest payment centre, may balk at the extra step.

Still, Biyaheroes’ Reyes says, “Travelling via public transport can be a great experience as it should be.” With growing mobile Internet penetration in the Philippines and a growing appreciation of e-commerce, maybe it will be soon.

The post Can these young guns change status quo of bus booking in the Philippines? appeared first on e27.

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