The COVID-19 pandemic has presented, and continues to present, enormous challenges across the spectrum of industry, not least for the travel and tourism sector. One company that is actively developing IT solutions to help travel and tourism operators survive and even prosper in these difficult times is the Taiwanese software house Riversoft. Chairman and CEO Alex Kuo tells us more.
It’s lovely to meet you, Mr Kuo! Thank you very much for sitting down with us today. You had quite a career before focusing on the tourism industry. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your professional journey?
Thank you for having me to this interview. I am a lucky man and was brought up in Taiwan. I had a pretty smooth learning path from the best high school and university in Taiwan, and received advanced MBA education from George Washington University in the US. I worked in Acer group for almost 20 years and in two big private, tech-based companies in China for six years. Then, I immigrated to Canada and started my career of venture angel to more than 10 companies. I particularly devoted myself to the travel and travel IT business from 2017. Now, I am concentrating on Riversoft, a travel AI and solution company, and Lotus, a class A travel agency in Taiwan. I am very much enjoying my learning experience from transforming the tourism industry and fighting against the impact of the pandemic to ensure the survival of my company. So far, we are doing well, even though we are still in a stage of the pandemic period.
How did you decide to come back to Taiwan and join Riversoft? Was there a specific moment which influenced you to make this decision?
I was introduced to assisting a traditional travel agency in Vancouver in 2016. During the survey, I found that the operational logic of making a tour package is very similar to making a computer. Further, the travel business consists of integrating service, content, creativity, and IT technology. This attracts me a lot. Besides, travel is in a global business environment and fits me well, since I spent all my career in Acer working towards globalisation.
Since 2008, Riversoft has continuously assisted traditional travel agencies in upgrading and optimising their ERP systems and e-commerce websites. Can you walk us through your core services?
In the period 2008-18, Riversoft mainly devoted itself to assisting small and medium-sized travel agencies in using the subscription model to make their website and ERP via software as a service. Riversoft received investment from Peakwork and me in 2019, Lion travel in 2022, and Chain4Travel in 2022. I also injected further investment in Riversoft to ensure my confidence in its capability and potential for the future. From 2019, Riversoft built up its core competence in travel, ESG, and blockchain. In the travel sector, we have perfectly integrated Peakwork‘s dynamic packaging engine and Riversoft’s NLP and ERP into different types of services to fit a variety of requirements of the global tourism industry
You’ve grown the company into a business with multiple international travel partners. Can you tell us a bit more about the strategic thinking behind this? To what can you attribute this level of success?
Riversoft was originally a local software house to small and medium-sized travel agencies. In order to cultivate its capability and capacity, I invited Peakwork, Lion Travel, and Chain4Travel to invest in Riversoft and infuse financial, technical, and market resources to support the transformation of the company. In addition, we recruited employees from Canada, Hong Kong, Malaysia, India, and Sweden. My global working experience and channel networking also supported Riversoft’s entry into the global market
In 2019, Riversoft entered a joint venture with Peakwork, a leading travel technology company from Germany, to engage in a strategic cooperation. How has this partnership benefited you today?
Yes, Peakwork’s investment has benefited Riversoft in three dimensions.
- First, Peakwork invested in Riversoft during the pandemic period, and this investment has encouraged the whole team a lot, financially as well as psychologically.
- Secondly, Peakwork’s technology framework has always guided us with a broader and wider scope of implementation to explore a deeper insight into the travel industry.
- Finally, networking partners from the Peakwork ecosystem have brought a huge business potential to our approach.
How would you define your organisational culture? How have you managed to scale up your team over the years and maintain a coherent culture?
I want Riversoft to be a place full of technology innovation, cross-border cultural cooperation, and inspiration for well-being. Over the years, we have done our best to grow and educate our employees to learn new technology applications, to contribute to social welfare, and to participate in building ESG-related enterprises. We have continued to perform these activities even during the pandemic period.
The last two years had the world at a standstill due to COVID-19, with the tourism and hospitality industry being the worst-hit sector. How well do you think Riversoft weathered this crisis?
Riversoft has luckily survived throughout the whole pandemic period. From this disaster, we learned how to be resilient in the face of change and grow new capabilities during tough times. Now, we have grown our capability in medical services with our NLP and chatbot technology. This is one of the most valuable lessons learned. We are very proud of our staff for their integrity and loyalty to Riversoft and for assisting the whole company to survive and grow from this crisis.
Travel patterns have also changed significantly during the pandemic, with customers shifting toward domestic travel or trips to neighbouring countries. What’s your outlook on tourism in the short and long term?
We foresee that tourists will ask for more freedom of choice, more options for small groups, and greater focus on security and insurance. We have already adjusted our technology platform to fit these changes in demand. In the short term, we will concentrate on enhancing our existing networking partnerships with a consensus towards building protocols of cooperation in order to satisfy customer requirements. In the long term, we will adopt more user-friendly technology to support these shifting requirements, such as contactless payment, conversation as a service powered by AI, and remote medical-aid support for tourists.
Your company is well positioned to enable travellers to search and book on the site almost throughout the travel cycle, from city guides to flights, hotels, tours, and restaurants. What do you see as the most important trends in the world of travel booking?
There are three key important trends in travel booking.
First, travellers are asking for wider and instant availability of travel resources. Here, we have successfully implemented the best practice of Peakwork from Europe.
Second, we will use chatbot to support tourists via our NLP AI engine to assist them with their service requirements.
Finally, we have successfully engaged with the mobile portal from Payke  of SCSK, and the robot concierge from Guardforce AI . This is an innovative pattern in the tourism industry and we expect it to lead to a trendy new service in the near future.
You are currently developing an epic new project called DART. Can you tell us a bit more about this new development? What are the objectives and goals of such an innovation?
DART stands for Dynamic Attention Referral Technology. We invented this technology in order to achieve the following goals.
First, we want to serve tourists with a “what you choose is what you get” service. In comparison with many MarTech companies, who carry out a lot of tagging analysis on customer needs, we add more domain knowledge to resource supply, with instant control of availability.
Second, we have pioneered a cookie-less NLP tagging ontology to understand or even foresee tourists’ service needs.
Third, we want to build a customer-centric service platform and support cross-border cooperation between supply chains.
These innovations and integrations have become our corporate mission and have driven our technology development.
What do you think are the biggest challenges that the hospitality and tourism industry will face in the next 10 years in Taiwan and globally?
In the coming ten years, Taiwan needs to make its best efforts to transform itself from local tourism-oriented hospitality to at least a regional service and support platform with multi-cultural operation. We expect to phase in new technology and a new business model in Taiwan.
As for global concerns, I think net-zero, metaverse, NLP AI, and blockchain will definitely influence the future landscape of global tourism.
What is next for Riversoft? Can you share with us your planning for 2023?
In 2023, our priority of business execution is doing proof of business according to our plans. We expect to develop most of our technology modules by the end of 2022. Also, we will start to plan for Riversoft‘s long-term capital structure in order to grow in scale and with global expansion.
And lastly, Mr Kuo, what is success to you?
I define my success not from how much money I make or what title I earn from this venture. I consider my task to grow Riversoft into a global arena as my life mission, to show my gratitude for my good fortune in being a Taiwanese and for being raised by my parents. I also feel that this whole experience and achievement will be the best gift I could leave to my family and children. I am very grateful to have this chance and opportunity to contribute my learning from school, from Acer, and from many partners. I will pass on my leadership to my successor, together with my hopes for Riversoft to become a public company in the near future. In the years to come, I hope that Riversoft will go down in Taiwanese history for being a role model in assisting Taiwan’s economic transformation.
- Payke https://payke.co.jp/
- Guardforce https://gfaihk.com/