We are in a place that is not good for investment.
Can a travel startup in Asia achieve both scalability and sustainability? Hai Ho, CEO & founder of Triip.me in Vietnam, shares his insights about the startup that’s making the industry take notice.
Can you explain the concept of Triip.me?
It started as a website to connect local experts with travelers who want authentic experiences. After a year, the idea grew from our original vision. Now, we don’t just feature local experts, but businesses also see us as a platform to reach travelers.
Did the concept change because travel and tourism is so complex, or because you wanted to take this idea further?
There is no guarantee in this business. So the safest way is to get it done with the shortest amount of time and with the smallest investment and then throw it to the market to see if the response is good. If the response is good then you keep doing it. Once the market accepts it, you find a way to grow.
Capturing the tours and activity market is a competitive business. How do you set yourself apart?
Our user experience was on par with others, but we wanted to get ahead of ourselves. So we spent about 70 percent of our money to improve our user experience.
Technology is changing how, where and why we travel. Find out more in our Technology Spotlight series.
What are the challenges associated with being a startup based in Asia?
We are in a place that is not good for investment. In travel and tourism, most of the investments happen in Europe and in America. About 3 percent happens somewhere in Africa, and about 1 percent in Asia. Vietnam is a very small part of Asia.
You also have to fight with the big guys, like the major airlines, for the same keywords. It’s very hard to convince an outsider that your business works.
At the end of the day, even if we don’t become a big global company, we will have a good database of people having great experiences. I think that has value.
What are some of the most popular types of tours are people looking for?
Food tours, tours by night, cycling, and history tours. Another popular one, based in Vietnam, is the photo tour. In Asia, the Chinese especially, they love to take pictures to post on social media. But not everyone is a good photographer, so on this tour you pay someone to handle that for you.
How are you vetting these operators, to ensure they’re giving a good experience that you want as part of your brand?
We don’t pay the operator right away. The traveler books the trip, and three days after the trip is completed, without any complaints, we transfer the money to the operator.
There is also TripAdvisor, there is Lonely Planet, there are forums and so many ways to cross-reference, but the best way is to get on Skype and just talk to them. You can’t hide from the travel world if you are a bad tour operator.
How are you getting the word out to consumers?
When you have no money, PR is the only way. I’ve been lucky enough to be featured in outlets such as Tech in Asia, CNN, etc. But those big publications only give you a boost for like one or two days. I was quite disappointed when TripAdvisor deleted our forum. The rules don’t allow for a marketplace like ours that is somewhere in between being an independent tour operator and a big company.
And so the idea is to be scalable, to expand to many cities and countries?
Yes, we will.
It sounds like it’s the technology that separates you from between you and a bespoke travel agent.
I think it is the mindset. We ask ourselves every day, with the current technology and the current talent on our team, what more can we do?’ We don’t ask how much money we made today; we worry about that second.
Would you consider yourself a disruptor in the travel and tourism industry?
It is such a broad industry that it’s very hard to disrupt the entire industry. The way we disrupt is in how we operate the company: how we handle customer care, automating our system, and analyzing big data. To be able to collect big data, you need to prepare the day you launch your website and have someone who is good with user experience to understand how to use that data. It’s a foreign language to most of the industry.
Photo credit: ©iStock.com/PonyWang