UPDATE (11/2/19): This is a sponsored post by TouristGuide.Asia. In light of recent news, we have reached out to the team at TouristGuide.Asia for a personal comment and will update the article if we receive a response.
Travel the world while you’re still young, they say.
But it’s easier said than done because vacations can come with astronomical price tags, especially when they are overseas trips.
So does this mean we shouldn’t or can’t travel? Not really, there are ways. And I don’t mean ways that include sitting by the street and begging your way meal to meal. If you think that travelling smart means hopping on the cheapest bus to one of our neighbouring countries, you’re wrong.
Two years ago, 33 year-old Devan Kumar Somalu (or Dev) realised that there were many Malaysians who were willing to save up and spend on vacations, but could not afford to do so.
He eventually founded TouristGuide.Asia, a travel portal with a stated mission of making the unaffordable affordable. What’s their catch? Their sales, sold at highly competitive prices, are usually only available for a certain period of time.
For example, when you pop over to the section on the website for Travel Deals, you’ll encounter a variety of travel packages—these are only available for that week.
So if you don’t find something to your fancy, there’s always next week.
However, don’t confuse them for a travel agency because all deals can be bought directly from their website, without involving any sales or travel agents, and the time-limited deals are also only available for the first 100 packages.
Good news—while a sign-up is required before purchasing any deals, it doesn’t cost anything. Basically, the most obvious difference between Tourist Guide Asia and travel agencies is that they do not customise tour packages.
The limited nature of their packages is an essential part of their business model, but customer loyalty is arguably just as important. New users get a RM100 voucher, along with 50 referral points when they refer a friend.
Combining Entrepreneurship And His Passion
Dev has an interesting background—graduating with an electrical engineering degree while dabbling in advertising, he dived headlong into entrepreneurship once done with his studies.
He started a company that published a book for SPM-leavers who were going to tertiary education. It was the second book, however, that was the start of everything we see today.
Named “Tourist Guide Asia”, the book is a travel-centric book that gave tips on how to budget and save during vacation trips. Totally self-funded by advertisements with hotels and travel agencies, over 100,000 books were distributed in total.
It was then that Dev had a lightbulb moment: many of their advertisers were paying them in hotel and travel vouchers instead of cash, why not monetise that and start a travel portal instead?
“We also realised the bargaining power we had when we have a big group of trailers with us. That allowed us to plan our business model for Tourist Guide Asia, So the travel publication experience was a significant one for us,” said Dev.
Haters Gonna Hate
Their business model works by keeping prices consistently lower than the competition, and how it’s done is through the power of group buying which enables them to get the best rates from airlines, hotels or tour operators.
This group buying power is fueled, in part, by the time-locked packages that are available.
Dev added, “By limiting the amount of time for purchase and the number of packages available, we are able to lock in more buyers quickly.”
The combination of undercutting mainstream prices by 15% and being a new face in the market has led to claims that their whole thing is part of an elaborate scam. Understandable, because you can never be too careful these days.
“We are honest people with an honest mission. We want to make travel affordable for all. We could afford to do this with the bargaining power we have because of the amount of users we have in our portal. We pass the savings which we get from our suppliers onto the customers,” explained Dev.
The Risk And Rewards Of Entrepreneurship
The journey thus far hasn’t been plain sailing for Dev however. Tourist Guide has always been self-funded, and have bootstrapped their way to where they are now.
Boasting numbers of 25,000 members and 10,000 customers, the team wants to turn Tourist Guide Asia into the go-to platform for any Malaysian with the travel bug.
He knows it won’t be easy, because there are other aspects of the business that need to be at its best. According to him, “We also want to be a brand which is synonymous for the best in customer service and the best in product offerings”.
Having harboured a desire to be an entrepreneur during university, Dev says that the most rewarding thing about growing a travel-based startup is seeing customers who never expected to be able to travel to certain far-away places until they came across Tourist Guide Asia.
“That I think is the most rewarding part of running this startup, making dreams come true.”
This article is written in collaboration with Tourist Guide Asia.