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Klook to cut 160 jobs, 9% of workforce

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Klook, a travel booking startup based in Hong Kong, announced a layoff of 160 employees or nearly 9% of its workforce, in a note written by co-founder and CEO Ethan Lin.

Klook will cut 46 jobs in its Taiwan office, representing almost one third of the layoff.

In general, the customer support and operation teams in Taiwan and Malaysia are the most affected by the decision. Meanwhile, part of the business development teams in Japan, Europe and the US were cut and the office in India was closed.

“We are seeing signs of recovery in some markets. However, we are still far away from pre-COVID-19 levels,” Lin wrote to his staff.

He said the resurgence of coronavirus cases in Hong Kong and Australia signaled that “the road to recovery is fragile” and Klook does not know “when travel will resume in full force.”

Travel industry has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. In May, Uber and Airbnb also announced their layoff plans, slashing workforce by 14% and 25% respectively.

Taiwan office took a hard hit

Last year, Klook expanded its staff in Taiwan as part of the plan to build a large online customer service center to help travelers in 11 languages. But the demand for such assistance has dropped significantly since countries around the world started imposing travel restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

“With travel restrictions still in place, the volume of travelers today is nowhere near the levels from 2019,” Lin wrote in the note.

Klook has tried different approaches to offset the loss in the whole pandemic swirl, including promoting domestic trips and stay-at-home experiences.

“Travel bubble is an alternative we are looking forward to, but it seems like countries are making slow progress. The travel industry may go back to normal only after an effective vaccine is available in the market” Lin said.

Travel bubble is an agreement between a set of countries to open their borders exclusively to each other.

What’s next for ex-Klookers

Klook provides a generous package to the staff the company is letting go. They will receive an extra severance pay on top of local labor law standard and continue to receive healthcare coverage. They are also allowed access to Klook’s employee assistance program and keep the company-issued laptops for job seeking.

The benefit Klook offers is not unprecedented. Earlier in May, when Airbnb announced its layoff, it provided a 14-weeks of base pay with one extra week for every year of experience at the company. Ex-employees are also entitled to their healthcare coverage throughout 2020.

Since April, Klook has been taking measures to reduce costs. While cutting approximately 10% to 20% of its total headcount, the company has implemented a temporarily reduced workweek across the organization. CEO Ethan Lin and other senior leaders have also stopped receiving their pay “until the end of the crisis.”

Last year, Klook raised a $225 million Series D+ funding round led by Softbank’s Vision Fund. The company said it has been reserving the proceeds and will explore new business opportunities while tackling challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.