It was a big transition for a travel magazine publisher to reposition itself as a tech company in 2013. “We had a readership of around 30,000 and two million Weibo followers who were fans of our magazine,” ZaiSeoul co-founder Jaeyoung Jang said. “We asked them to visit our new website and some of them became actual customers.” After the transition was completed, the company set up a branch in Shanghai. Jang now works with a full team in China, while the other co-founder remains in Seoul running operations.
Founded in 2011, ZaiSeoul started out as a travel magazine. In Myeong-dong, a renowned Korean commercial district, coupon books attract pedestrians to nearby restaurants and hair salons. With his experience publishing coupon books whilst at university and time spent in China as an exchange student, Jang thought it would be a good idea to target coupon books at Chinese tourists, and started the company with a friend whom he met six years previously in China.
ZaiSeoul’s website now touches areas such as travel packages, accommodation, fashion and cosmetics. Jang said the company’s value lies in specializing individual holidays rather than group tours. The travel website attracts a niche market of female tourists in their 20s and 30s by offering accommodation options like traditional Korean guest houses and boutique hotels, where their Chinese counterparts cannot.
The company received a US$680,000 angel round from Korean investor K-Cube Ventures last year and seed funding from Primer in 2013. Based on the company’s strong reputation from publishing, the company has been able to cooperate with Qunar to list its accommodation offerings as well as UnionPay to provide a bus tour. Mydol, the biggest K-pop fan app and G.Market, the giant e-commerce website, also work with the company to attract K-pop fans and shoppers from China. The business model lies in commission charges from sales of products and advertisements.
“Visiting Korea is not only about visiting touristic sites, it’s about consuming new trends. Some people come to see a K-pop concert, to get skin care or surgery, or to try a new hairstyle, cosmetics and fashion.” According to Jang, recent trends are to buy baby products and to visit local hot spots, such as Sokcho in Gangwon-do, Gamcheon Art district in Busan, Kyungridan Road and Express Bus Terminal district in Seoul, where successful Korean programs like My Love from the Star and Running Man are filmed. Coffee shops run by the family of Korean celebrities are also popular. The company will launch a mobile app early this year.
Image Credit: ZaiSeoul
Editing by Mike Cormack (@bucketoftongues)