WITH the Covid-19 pandemic causing borders to close and restricting movement within and across countries in 2020, many in the travel and tour industry were ready to close shop.
For one well-known name in the industry, Parlo Bhd, an operator of leisure as well as corporate and MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) travel services since 1996, the pandemic has turned up an opportunity.
The supply of foreign workers to any country is already a multi-step and complicated process. With the pandemic, additional safety requirements and contact traceability procedures made it an even more cumbersome exercise.
ACE Market-listed Parlo which handles visa application, travel insurance and other travel support services as part of its travel and tour operations realised that its expertise can be used to solve these problems.
Ensuring the speedy and continuous supply of foreign workers is critical in sustaining the country’s economy. Parlo realised quickly it can play a role in helping the country in two ways: leverage on its existing network of business partners and industry experience, and providing digital technologies for foreign workforce management.
There were two critical factors that helped Parlo succeed in this endeavour.
Parlo needed someone who has the experience in digital technologies to drive the company’s expansion beyond leisure, corporate and MICE travel and ancillary services into migrant workforce management services from source to destination countries.
The company appointed Ti Lian Seng to the Parlo board as an executive director in October 2020 to leverage on his experience in digital technologies to engineer and roll out a digital ID platform.
Ti has a long association with the Green Packet group of companies; he was CEO at KipleLive, an artificial intelligence-driven property technology unit that pioneered contactless and cashless parking as well as facilitated businesses, schools and hospitals.
Parlo’s second critical step was to partner with Myanmar-based Diamond Palace Group of Co Ltd which has access to foreign workforce management services to facilitate the supply of workers to employers.
The platform ensures that all information of foreign workers from Myanmar will be digitalised in the form of digital identification documents.
Expecting to serve 360,000 Myanmar workers by 2021, the platform will be able to facilitate secure online transactions such as banking, travel, insurance and other commercial services for a seamless process convenient to foreign migrant workers.
Parlo is planning to offer software as well as hardware under the e-ID total solutions platform such as e-KYC (know-your-customer), public key infrastructure and identity management solutions.
Integration with mobile phones through optional embedded secure elements as well as integration with mobile apps are future services that may also be offered.
In essence, the digital identity to be embedded in the mobile devices are grouped into enrolment and registration; encoding of personal and biometric data; and, integration with mobile apps.
There are plans to provide third-party logistics services for smartphones, such as logistics strategy, inventory planning and management, and, inbound, outbound and reverse logistics management.
The intent is to use the latest technology-enabled gadget to replace physical identification documents via digitalisation. As an example, debit and credit cards can now easily be replaced with apps in smartphones enabled by high-end secured hardware chips.
“It is inevitable that traditional physical identification documents such as national identity cards, driving licences and worker identity cards will be replaced by high-end e-ID embedded in smartphones, ” Ti says.
Fintech in the pipeline
In keeping with Parlo’s new age travel management company ethos that emphasises technology, financial technology will also play its part in the digitisation move.
Parlo plans to launch other potential revenue-generating elements from the digital services to be provided to foreign migrant workers.
In the pipeline are e-wallet and cashless payments; e-services such as mobile reloads and bill payments in both source and host countries; e-remittance; e-assistance for legal, medical, employment and notification purposes; e-commerce; and job listings.
Parlo is currently looking to expand this digital platform internationally to cover as many as 10 million Myanmar workers worldwide.
The tie-up with Diamond Palace worth US$100mil is an exclusive 30-year concession with the Myanmar government to supply workers from the country.
Parlo will be providing employment agency-related services for workers from source country to destination country including travel, logistics and dormitory arrangements, as well as medical examinations.
For now, the agreement covers Myanmar workers applying to work or leaving Malaysia, Japan and Thailand but will eventually be worldwide.“It is not a complete change for us, ” says Ti.
“In fact this is familiar territory as we have experience in travel management services and have also worked with hostel operators.
“Our network extends to other countries and we see demand for the services we are offering especially when borders eventually reopen as migrant workers enter or leave countries.”
Ti acknowledges that the while the pandemic has affected Parlo like other players in the travel and tourism as well as hospitality and airline industries, this change will help transform the company moving forward.
“This move to provide foreign workforce management services is a great opportunity for us as the need for foreign migrant workers will eventually return when the economy recovers and borders reopen, ” he says.
Ti says Parlo can expect the new venture into foreign workforce management services to bring in RM420mil revenue for the financial year ending Dec 31,2021, and the company is expected to be profitable next financial year too.
Investors are also taking note, with Parlo’s share price having soared despite the company’s core business largely not being able to operate in 2020.
Over the three-month period from Aug 3 to Nov 3, the share price jumped more than 450% to close at 47 sen.
Investors see opportunity for Parlo, as besides the employment agency-related services, the company is exploring other avenues that can be a game-changer in terms of smoothening out the process for foreign migrant workers from the moment they apply to work abroad to when they remit money.
Remittance alone from Myanmar workers abroad back to the country is estimated to be around US$900mil a month.
There is an estimated one million Myanmar workers in Malaysia with another four million in Thailand.
Parlo has an advantage in that the favoured destinations of Myanmar workers include Singapore, Japan, South Korea and the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, where Parlo has a strong network.
The digital platform allows Diamond Palace to engage with workers at an unprecedented scale and enables employers of foreign workers to undertake their core activities in fundamentally different ways.
It helps to reduce cost and time caused by formal recruitment processes and aims to drive the efficiency on wages disbursement as well as the workers’ financial management.
By expanding the realm of possible action by migrant workers, technology can lead to broader structural and policy change.
Digital platforms enabling foreign workers will ensure service providers undertake activities that they are already engaged in – and in a quicker, cheaper, and sometimes, safer way.