In Japan, travel and leisure-related portals have been on the rise recently. Keeping with that trend, Tokyo-based Catarizm, the startup behind online leisure booking site Asoview, announced on Friday that it has partnered with Yahoo Travel, the travel-focused arm of Yahoo Japan.
Since its launch back in April of 2013, Asoview has been providing booking services for skydiving, rafting, and other weekend leisure activities. Users are allowed to choose and book an activity out of the 1,500 programs available from the startup’s 460 partners.
One of the remarkable aspects of the company’s launch was the involvement of Takao Ozawa. He is a serial entrepreneur who launched second-hand book and video marketplace EasySeek , established a professional baseball team at Rakuten, and invested in many emerging startups like Star Festival, Nanapi, and Tokyo Otaku Mode. He sold his social marketing agency Crocos to Yahoo Japan back in August of 2012, and joined YJ Capital (the investment arm of Yahoo Japan) to help cultivate its investment and e-commerce businesses.
The company’s CEO, Tomohisa Yamano, reflected on when he met Ozawa for the first time:
I knew him through a friend of mine when I launched the website. He seemed to like me, and I joined his community of entrepreneurs. Obviously, I’ve got lots of advice from him. In the worst case, he said he could help me get employed in the bottled water business if the company failed.
Yamano previously worked with Recruit, a Japanese human resource and web service company which operates various booking sites. There he proposed the concept of a leisure booking site similar to Asoview, but it was not adopted. Perhaps they thought the market was too small or might conflict with their existing businesses.
Helping consumers enjoy their weekends
We featured PlayLife a week ago, which is another service that helps Japanese people find their leisure plans. When asked how his service is different, Yamano explained:
I decided to launch a travel-focused service at first, but it was unlikely to really address a need in the space because of many travel booking sites/apps available. Then I conducted a survey of 100 persons, and I recognized there’s a huge demand in helping them find what to do and where to visit at travel destinations.
However, several months ago, there were very few websites focused on niche leisure activities like rafting. Consumers were forced to rely on fragmented information resources such as blogs. Yamano recognized consumers need to find ways to enjoy their weekends, and started preparing for the website by partnering with 37 recreation planners and organizers. He says that their available options vary from outdoor activities to unusual experiences such as rides on a rickshaw, a limo, or a helicopter. He expected to acquire 1,000 orders a season at most, but it has already surpassed 5,000 orders to date.
What Asoview provides is similar to Japanese private lesson marketplace Cyta.jp. While there are many difficulties in a niche, commission-based business, Yamano told us their average sales price is 24,000 yen ($240), higher than that of major hotel booking sites.
- Subsequently acquired back in 2002 by Rakuten for about $13 million.↩