Are the regular tourist destinations boring? Travellers want something more than that and they need authentic local experiences?
Do travellers want to live the local life and experience local culture?
Singapore-based startup Indiescapes says yes to these questions.
Indiescapes provides a platform for locals to list their tour/itinerary, the Indiescape team verifies it and approves it to be added to the platform.
Then, a traveller will be able to search for local tours and activities, by price, duration, activity, and interest. Once a booking request is sent for a particular itinerary, the tour guide is notified of this. When a guide accepts the booking, the traveller pays for it.
The company is founded by Min Seetoh (CEO) and Heidi Shum (Chief Product Officer).
Indiescapes has a lean team taking care of customer outreach, web development and host community building.
The company has raised $20,000 funding through the ACE Start-ups Grant in Singapore and looking for the next round of financing to accelerate business.
Seetoh tells us how and why she and Shum started Indiescapes:
"Having had the opportunity to live in Sweden, the US and Argentina, I always had the chance to live like a local and have my friends share insights of their countries with me. Heidi too, has lived in Australia, and briefly in Vietnam and Egypt. During her travel, she also had the privilege of experiencing countries from very local perspectives.
"When we finally returned to Singapore after years of wandering the world independently, many of our friends started asking us for tips on authentic experiences when they travel and we realised that what is easily available on the market is usually the tourist-centric and commercialised stuff.
"Driven by a common desire to make prevalent the kind of authentic experiences that have greatly influenced our world views, Heidi and I started Indiescapes."
Q&A with Min Seetoh below.
Describe what your start-up does, what problem it solves and for whom?
Indiescapes is a curated marketplace of unique travel experiences for travellers to Asia Pacific. Whether it's spending a day with living like a Balinese villager or a Thai street food crawl with a best-selling local food writer, we enable travellers to find localised and unique travel experiences on the website.
We realised that what is easily available on the web is usually the tourist oriented content. It does not allow a traveller to get close enough to the locals, something many travellers are looking for today. In addition, buying an experience off the street sometimes comes with security and reliability concerns.
Thus, with our handpicked experiences, travellers no longer have to spend significant amount of time searching for high quality unique experiences as we find high quality and reliable hosts for them.
In addition, hosts who have been hosting experiences have been doing it through (mainly) word-of-mouth, friends of friends and there has not been a simple platform for them to bring out their offerings.
Today, Indiescapes provide a simple, easy-to-use platform for them to manage their listings, bookings and transactions all in one place.
Why should people or companies use your startup?
We bring travellers alternative, unique and meaningful experiences with quality and reliable hosts. They can now avoid all the tourist traps and deeply immerse in the local cultures.
It provides hosts a simple platform to reach out to more customers and make a living out of what they love to do.
Other than going viral and receiving mountains of positive PR, what is the strategy for raising awareness and getting customers/users?
Word of mouth works very well for us – happy customers who spread the word are the best type of marketing.
Facebook has also worked very well for us as we share interesting travel information beyond what we offer with our fans.
We believe that our offerings are a great complement for many other travel sites that provide other aspects of travel such as accommodation or flights.
Thus, we are working on strategic partnerships to increase our customers/users base through shared traffic.
Estimation of market size?
There are 200 million travellers to Asia Pacific each year and the Asia tourism industry is a total of about $350 billion. We believe the potential for this market is huge as travellers are moving away from the traditional standard tours to more independent and unique experiences.
Do you have competitors?
There are a number of competitors in the market, that's a good sign for us because that tells us that demand exists for such a product. Besides, we are all positioned slightly differently so we are capturing different target groups.
What's your revenue model and strategy for profitability?
We currently take a percentage for every transaction made on our website. We also intend to take part in affiliate programs, as well as strategic partnerships in the near future.
Were there any changes/pivots along the way?
No pivots yet, but we are constantly shaping our idea and offerings as we understand our users better.
Where do you see yourselves in 3 years time, what specific challenges do you hope to have overcome?
We are currently present in 3 main countries, but in 3 years time, we hope to be the place for travellers seeking unique things to do in Asia Pacific, and for passionate hosts to share their love with the world.
We would like to maintain the personal touch and uniqueness of the experiences even as we scale up the business. This is something we are constantly working on to ensure that the quality is not compromised and all our customers have a good time.
What is wrong with the travel, tourism and hospitality industry that requires another startup to help it out?
Travellers are no longer satisfied with just regular tourist destinations, activities.
Travellers seek for local immersive experiences, but reliable ones cannot be found easily on the web.
Currently, there’s no platform that enables locals to make a living from doing what they love and sharing a piece of their passion and culture with travellers.
The number of startups that operate in this similar business of connecting locals with travellers is on a steep rise. There are many regional players across the globe, but there is no single global player that can be stamped as "Airbnb for tour guides".
With the enormous scope and potential in this space, we can only expect that there will be more new startups in near future.
Indiescapes has taken a stand that their focus market is Asia, given the fact that the Asian travel industry is booming and spending is increasing, Indiescapes will have enough scope for growth.
The platform is neatly designed, and easy to understand. Review section for each itinerary/guide adds an element of authenticity.
Indiescapes promise that they will maintain the quality of experience even when they scale across Asia, but we will have to wait to see how the company achieves this.
The team's handpicked activities are interesting, few are: Cooking in an agriculture village in Hanoi, Tasting street food in Ho Chi Minh, a day with Thai Buddhists in Phuket, walking along train-track-market in Bangkok.
These activities start from as low as $22 per person to as high as $500 per person. On an average, for a $50-75 spend a traveller will be able to experience, live, eat in place like a local.
NB:TLabs Showcase is part of the wider TLabs project from Tnooz.