Trambellir evolves into tours and wellness bookings platform for Japanese conglomerate
When we spoke last year to So Iizuka, founder and CEO of
Trambellir, his goal was to focus on growing his wellness platform
in markets like Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Japan and Argentina.
Fast forward several months, and So’s startup has piqued the
interest of USEN Next Holdings, a Japanese conglomerate engaged in the store
service business and telecommunications that now wants to move into travel,
tours and attractions with Trambellir acting as its partner and bookings
platform. The two companies recently signed a memorandum of understanding to
form a strategic partnership and business alliance to jointly develop a
Japan-based inbound platform for wellness activities and other attractions
within the Japanese tourism space.
We caught up with So Iizuka to get into the details of the
partnership and what this means for Trambellir’s operations.
congratulations, So. What does this strategic partnership between USEN Next
Holdings and Trambellir mean for both parties?
We will jointly develop another booking platform for wellness
tourism activities in Japan, covering all major cities. Originally, USEN Next
Holdings was doing business outside of travel for the last 50 or 60 years,
including B2B music streaming services and SVOD [subscription video on demand] streaming
services. They also have IoT businesses.
This May, they decided to join the travel industry and created a
“tourism design lab” under the main holding company. They have ambitions to
join the travel industry, especially focusing on the inbound market. Their
strategy matched what we were doing – at WiT Japan, after I was on stage
talking about Trambellir, the managing director of USEN dropped by our booth
and we started the conversation [about this partnership].
How will this influence your inventory and offerings
Our inventory is 70–80% medical and wellness-related
products. What USEN Next Holdings wants to do is expand those categories to a
wider definition of wellness like zen, well-being, mindfulness, onsen hot springs.
Trambellir can’t do it by ourselves, this quickly, to expand
into markets like Japan. But USEN have these self check-in kiosks, and they
have a 70% market share in Japan in terms of medical institutions and hotels.
So they have a wide range of connections with service providers. Plus, their
main business is B2B music streaming for clients in the hospitality scene,
including restaurants and spas.
That will help accelerate our inventory growth, especially in
You are headquartered in Malaysia, but you’re
obviously very familiar with the Japanese market – what kind of challenges are
Of course, there’s a language barrier. Smaller treatment
providers might not know languages other than Japanese. That’s why
international companies like Trambellir can be intermediaries to connect travelers
to the Japanese market. We have a Japanese management team. To join the
Japanese market, it’s very important to overcome the language barrier.
Another challenge is – service providers are open to work with
big names like Booking.com or Agoda or Airbnb – but for startups, like a small
Malaysian travel startup – there’s a mindset that we need to overcome. They may
not be too open. But if they recognize that we’re managed by the Japanese and
speak the same language and know the culture, that helps. Having a partnership
with USEN, a large company, helps.
Are more partnerships like this coming soon?
I am proud to announce that we’ve wrapped up a
capital and business alliance with I&Co, led by Rei Inamoto [Creativity 50,
the Top 25 most creative people in advertising] and Rem Reynolds, a creative
agency firm in New York and Tokyo. Our
products will be creatively enhanced, and our brand strategies will be improved
by their resources. We are metamorphosing into a combination of OTA mixed with generative AI, mixed with “edgy creativity.”
We will develop a new UI/UX and a new branding
strategy with them, so our platform’s UI/UX design will be separate from our
original platform and the one with USEN Next Holdings.
Will a partnership of this scale change the way Trambellir
operates in any way?
In the long term, we might create a headquarters or
holding company in Japan if we really have to refocus on the Japan market.
We’re keeping things flexible on the company structure right now. I won’t
close the operations in Malaysia, many operations will be done in Malaysia, but
with things like fundraising, we may need to think about how we can change the
Will this attract more investments for Trambellir?
At the moment, we haven’t been working on
fundraising. We’re focusing on corporate business alliances. We prefer to work
with enterprises, with corporates. It’s not the proper startup way – but I’ve
been able to scale quickly, and our current strategy isn’t to seek VCs right