The way people travel is changing. Nobody wants to be the tourist with a hat, a map in one hand, a dictionary in another and a camera around their neck – visiting the same old ultra-popular touristy places. People want to experience cultures more than they want to see monuments. And one can see this because the tourism industry is flourishing with startups and newer ideas trying to give people different and newer experiences.
Today on OK, Intrnt we speak to Maxime Besnier, the founder of Very Local Trip – a platform that connects travelers to locals to have unique, local experiences in a foreign land.
Please tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Maxime Besnier. I’m French and I’ve been living in Thailand for the past five years. My background is not in IT and not in Tourism – my background is Pharmacy! I used to work for major biotech firms in France for over 6 – 7 years and I moved to Thailand in January 2010 because I wanted a new experience in life. I was a little bored and I wanted some change. And I started ‘Very Local Trip’ in Thailand!
Why and how did you end up with this idea?
Like I said, I’ve been living in Thailand for over five years. I often began to get messages on my Facebook from my friends and friends of friends who would ask me “Hey, I see you live in Bangkok and I’m coming to Thailand soon. Could you tell me something nice to visit, off the beaten track?” Basically people don’t like to travel as ‘tourists’ but rather feel like a local. I realized that there’s some opportunity here because many travelers want to connect with someone who lives locally – either a local or an expat. I also knew a lot of locals and expats who know the city very well, are friendly and have some time to spare. I figured they’d love to share their passion and earn some extra money. So I began thinking about how I could connect travelers with locals via a platform.
I used to work for a company that manufactured mosquito nets and it was taken over by a company in Dubai. I somehow didn’t want to move to Dubai and wanted to stay in Thailand so I started working as a freelance consultant. I’ve been doing this for the past two years now and this is how I mostly make money. I work on this about four or five days a month and I dedicate the rest of my time to Very Local Trip.
Now we’re a team of four besides three freelancers. It’s a very international team though most of us are based in Bangkok.
At what stage are you right now?
We’re up and we’re already getting traction. But we still have a lot of things we need to work on, with our website. We have around 150 experiences online in around 30 countries and we have around 2 new sign ups of ‘local friends’ everyday. During the past three months the website was down and people could not sign up but now we’re back for the past 10 days. We already have 3 confirmed bookings in a week. Now that we’re finally operational and functional again, we have people queuing up.
How do you build trust in such an environment?
It’s really crucial for us to build trust. That is why we built this network of ambassadors who are our eyes and ears locally. They can recommend people who have interesting things to offer for visitors and who are reliable.
As much as we can, we review the trips ourselves – for example I just tried a cycling trip in Bangkok that we have on our website. When it isn’t possible, we have other tools like a skype interview and a video presentation – which help us build a community. But in the future, when we have a lot of users, the selection would be done by the users themselves through the review system.
What are you planning for the future at the moment?
The new version of the website is fully functional now. We’re going to build a community to develop a portfolio of ‘experiences’. We need to start communication soon – because so far all the traffic we have is organic and we haven’t used any paid channels so far.
When an expat’s family comes to visit him in Bangkok, he is working so he cannot show them around. Our service could be very useful or someone like this, for instance. We need to reach the entire expat community. We have a network of bloggers. We have a press release soon.
We’re starting our crowdfunding campaign soon – and it’s really good because a crowdfunding campaign brings not only money but a lot of awareness too!
What is your favorite “experience” of the ones listed on your website?
Yesterday I tried the Bicycle Trip in Bangkok – it’s 4 hours long and it’s really awesome. The local friend brings you to very very small streets in Chinatown. I have been in Thailand for over 5 years but yesterday I saw so many spots that I didn’t know about. She even introduced me to the very best Pad Thai food in Bangkok.
Another one that I would really recommend is the Local Trip in Chinatown with Arunee. She was born in Chinatown and she really knows the place. She’s soon going to offer more experiences too, like a cooking class at home. I would really recommend this one too.
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As part of OK, Intrnt’s efforts to connect people, we asked Maxime if he would like to speak to some of our readers directly and he happily agreed! Write to us and we will get back to you and tell you how you can reach him!
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