TLabs Showcase on travel startups featuring Hong Kong-based tour distribution platform Gunyah.
Who and what are you (including personnel and backgrounds)?
Gunyah is an innovative distribution platform for small local providers of holiday packages to gain access to international markets.
Gunyah is a collaboration between the WHL Group and a large number of small tour and package holiday operators around the world.
Gunyah is being led by Luke Ford and Ashley Hiemenz, both formerly with WHL.travel and Abs Lakin ex Buffalo Tours.
What financial support did you have to launch the business?
Gunyah is being financed jointly by a large number of local tour companies (all of whom are operators of packages to be distributed by Gunyah) and the WHL Group.
The WHL Group has already developed similar platforms to distribute product from small local tourism providers to the global market (e.g. day tours via Urban Adventures and eco-friendly airport transfers via Green Path Transfers) and has established relationships with numerous wholesale and affiliate partners to build distribution.
This has kept the need for investment capital very low and the time to market, very short.
What problem are you trying to solve?
The tour and activity market is highly fragmented with thousands of small local operators around the world offering 10’s of thousands of products.
Sadly the good products are hard to find and even harder to book. Gunyah brings the very best small-to-medium scale tour operators and holiday package providers together on one marketing and distribution platform, with the business model and technology to allow wide distribution and instant online booking for both the retail and wholesale travel markets.
Not only does this help small tour operators gain access to international markets, but it also delivers an exciting and unique adventure travel product to major online distributors with real-time availability and an attractive commission structure.
Describe the business, core products and services?
Gunyah provides a complete product, allotment and booking management platform for tour operators and package providers to sell multi-day packages.
Gunyah selects product carefully to ensure it fits our brand (unique local travel experiences and sustainability), and can be booked easily. Gunyah also assists with product content descriptions to ensure it is both marketable and optimized for the web, plus negotiates and implements distribution partnerships on behalf of all partners.
Gunyah has restricted membership on the supply side so that we only have one provider of a given product in each destination. In return we expect the supplier to meet exacting quality criteria driven by traveller feedback. A failure to do so means the product will be withdrawn.
On the consumer end Gunyah provides authentic local travel experiences ranging from 2-12 days in duration around the world via a number of different sales channels, including the main Gunyah website.
Who are your key customers and users at launch?
As a distribution company (middleman) with capabilities to sell at both the retail and wholesale levels, our key customers at launch are;
Independent Travellers. Gunyah is targeting travellers who are looking for unique local travel experiences combined with the convenience of a package holiday. These are experiences they would find hard to access on their own, and they can experience them without necessarily having to join a tour group.
Agents/Wholesalers/OTAs/Affiliates. There is a huge network of existing distribution out there looking for exciting new experiential travel product which is easy to search, easy to book and priced for distribution. Given the fragmented nature of this product on the supply side, Gunyah should appeal.
Suppliers. We are only as good as the operators of the products we distribute. We aim to launch with the best and continue to expand the network of suppliers and products by continuously recruiting the best partners out there.
Did you have customers validate your idea before investors?
As our investors are mostly all local tour and package holiday providers, validation came with the investment. So yes, there has been plenty of research amongst travellers, small tour operators, and potential distributors.
The idea for Gunyah actually grew from a push by tour operators in the whl.travel network.
What is the business AND revenue model, strategy for profitability?
As a distribution platform for small tour and holiday package providers, income derives primarily from commissions on packages sold.
Because Gunyah is able to leverage the WHL Group assets (office and partner network, technology, accounting systems, and relationships with existing distribution partners), the initial capital investment has been small and operating costs can be kept very low.
Equally, we have the ability to build distribution quickly so we expect to reach profitability in the first year.
SWOT analysis – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats?
- Mainly the key assets we have leveraged courtesy of being a WHL Group company (global office and partner network, technology, accounting & management systems, and relationships with existing distribution partners).
- To become a dominant player in niche markets within the adventure travel sector as we build out the products offered around the world (e.g. diving, biking, slow food, trekking etc.). There is also the opportunity to leverage collective buying via our sister company (Lime&Tonic) and/or via groups such as LivingSocial and GroupOn which have started moving into the travel space looking for aspirational buys.
Who advised you your idea isn’t going to be successful and why didn’t you listen to them?
- Any number of bigger cashed up groups moving to tackle the long tail opportunity in travel. Currently there are large groups like Viator in the (largely day based) activity sector doing global distribution at one end of the spectrum, and verticals (like the TUI owned site Adventure Center) distributing multi-day/multi-week tours at the other. Either group could potentially move on our space.
I have to say that what we have today in Gunyah is not what we started with ….so we did listen. Our experience in this business was largely a developing world one (courtesy of the WHL Group heritage) and when we started speaking to people in the USA and Australia about Gunyah we got a wake-up call.
Gunyah for the USA or Australia (a largely domestic offering) is not a lot like Gunyah for Kenya (a mostly international one). Good thing people were prepared to give some frank advice.
What is your success metric 12 months from now?
Feedback. We want a minimum of 90% of travellers saying they want to have another Gunyah experience and that they have recommended Gunyah to a friend.
NB: TLabs Showcase is part of the wider TLabs project from Tnooz.