Busted with roaming charges abroad? Tink Labs raises $125 million to offer free smartphones in hotels
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From a promo of Tink Labs' Handy phone, a smartphone offered for free in hotels. Photo credit: Tink Labs' video

From a promo of Tink Labs' Handy phone, a smartphone offered for free in hotels. Photo credit: Tink Labs' video

If you have ever been frustrated with the high cost of traveling with your smartphone abroad, then Tink Labs’ phone could literally come in “handy.”

Tink Labs, the designer of the Handy in-room 4G smartphone for hotels, has raised an additional $125 million this cycle. With this, the company hopes to expand its service to 1 million hotel rooms in over 100 cities by the end of 2017, tripling its staff in the process. Although this growth will be global, with Europe being an immediate target, the company remains strongest in the Asia-Pacific region.

Most of the money – $110 million, plus $13 million raised last year – comes from FIH Mobile, a subsidiary of Foxconn. Other investors include Sinovation Ventures and Meitu’s Cai Wensheng, and TCL Alcatel has participated in previous rounds.

Currently, the smartphone service covers 100,000 rooms in 3-, 4-, or 5-star hotels, where users can rent a specially configured Samsung Galaxy Note or Galaxy Nexus for about $10 a night, depending on the location.

The 2017 goal represents a significant scaling up of Tink Lab’s capabilities, which at present are concentrated in East Asia, namely Singapore and Hong Kong, where it reaches 18.1 million users. It has been moving to partnerships with high-end European destinations, and with international properties such as Hyatt, the UK-based Marlin Apartments, and Starwood.

Take the hotel guidebook with you

“Even though a hotel is home base for travelers, you’re spending a very insignificant amount of time in the hotel,” Tink Labs chief executive officer Terence Kwok told the South China Morning Post in 2015, so Handy “connects the hotel to you.” According to the company, one-third of its users are businesspeople. As e27 noted in its review, the service especially appeals to travelers for whom it is “difficult to purchase mobile data plans upon arrival” to their destination. For those who have more flexibility to get local SIM cards, the key draw is the curated content Tink Labs prepares for each of its destinations.

This is why the service was also once offered at airports before the company decided to focus on hotels, which proved more profitable. Hotels are adapting the device since it increases guests’ spending on site by about $21 per day, and slightly improves customer review statistics.

The most useful feature of the smartphone is that combines multiple information services for guests into one platform. In American hotels, even some higher end ones, this information is usually spread out on in-room TV channels, hard copy binders, and web promotions.

Much of this growth will likely involve consumers from the Asia-Pacific market. According to the U.S. National Travel and Tourism Office, Chinese, Indian, Taiwanese, South Korean, and Australian nationals will account for the top 5 high-growth travel markets by 2020.

Image credit: The U.S. Travel Association

Image credit: The U.S. Travel Association

This means that an increasing number of foreign visitors traveling to the U.S. and other countries will hail from those nations, and startups like Tink Labs will be well positioned for growth.

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