[Korean Startups] Self-guided trip platform expands into themed travels

  • 2019-11-06

Planning a trip is no vacation. Booking a flight and hotel isn’t the end and searching for activities and mode of transportation is a must. This is why vacation packages were born. It became a solution to customers who wanted to travel without the fuss. The idea was to eliminate the headache out of vacation planning, but the result wasn’t so fun. Consumers turned away and self-guided tours began taking over, especially among 20- and 30-something travelers.

Revisiting the red ocean industry

Self-guided travel platform My Real Trip is going against the market trend. It jumped into the vacation package market, which doesn’t jive with its own business model. Lee Dong-gun, CEO of My Real Trip, said, “We knew that adding a variety of contents on top of the comfort of vacation packages would drive a market change.” Lee singled out “discomfort” as the reason why the packaged vacation market took the plunge. Cutthroat competition among service providers led to forced shopping trips and undesirable extra options. And demotivated tour guides, who get uncompetitive pay, failed to deliver a satisfying experience for tourists. But the biggest problem, Lee said, is how the tour groups are made up. Dozens of people ranging in all age groups with different interests and preferences call for trouble. Discomfort looms on all sides and no one enjoys anyone’s company.

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My Real Trip’s packaged trips pursue premium travel. It values contents over cost. Forced shopping and options are nowhere to be found and each trip’s theme is carefully defined. The idea is that traveling becomes enjoyable when people with similar taste come together.

Lee said, “If the theme of the trip is European soccer, it’s likely that anyone who signs up will be a soccer fan. Even if the group is made up of perfect strangers, they’ll bond as a community under the common interest of soccer,” he said. In this case, the packaged trip will develop into a social community.

My Real Trip has introduced a wide variety of travel products. “Wang Jiawei Hong Kong Tour,” a collaborated tour with online book club startup Trevari, is the most representative of them. Wang Jiawei is a Hong Kong film mogul who created “Days of Being Wild” and “Chungking Express.” The themed trip has travelers from the Trevari book club read a book related to Wang Jiawei and travel to Hong Kong on a My Real Trip package.

Lee considers tour guides as the highlight of any packaged trips. This is why the guide’s profile is featured on the very top of the detail page of any travel product. “Depending on the travel guide you meet, the experience you have at any scenery or ruins can vary dramatically.” He added, “Video production is under progress to show each guide’s unique personality.”

In July, My Real Trip invested in packaged travel startup Guide Live. It’s a company founded by brand marketing expert Kim Ji-hyung and Han Joo-young, who developed travel products and worked as a guide at Euro Bike Tour. Their motto is to run a “travel company centered on professional guides.” Lee said, “My Real Trip has been focused on selling travel products. We realized that we were lacking in product development so we decided to team up with outside experts like Guide Live.”

Enhancing recommendation algorithms

He is also focusing on strengthening the company’s primary “self-guided travel platform.” When users visit the My Real Trip platform, they can book flights, hotels, activities, transportation passes and other admission tickets. They carry approximately 20,000 products, excluding flights and hotels, scattered across 690 cities around the world.

The transaction volume of travel products jumped from 470 billion won in 2017 to 1400 billion won last year. And growth continues this year with the transaction volume already reaching 1400 billion won in the first part of the year alone. “We expect the annual volume to hit 5000 billion won by the end of the year,” said Lee.

Lee is ramping up recommendation algorithms based on purchase data. This is necessary to survive the competition against global online travel agencies (OTA). For example, for a user who purchased Korean Air business class airfare tickets for a family of four from Incheon to Paris, the system would recommend a premium hotel under the assumption that budget isn’t an issue. For a consumer who purchased a single low-fare economy ticket, a likely recommendation would be an inexpensive bed & breakfast.

 

Namyoung Kim

nykim@hankyung.com