“When you visit Myeongdong or the Jeju Islands in Korea, all you hear is Chinese.” The number of inbound travelers from China to Korea has risen to 6.1 million, a 41% growth year on year. The exponential growth contributed to record tourist income of US$18.1 billion. However, travel satisfaction has often been low, often due to travel agencies providing monotonous itineraries, looking around famous (and busy) spots, then heading to the shopping mall.
To solve this problem for free independent travelers (FIT), who book their own flights and hotels, MyRealTrip connects travelers to a local guide who speaks your mother tongue and then tailors the trip around what you want. Founded in 2012, the company has become the best outbound service in Korea, operating 780 tours in 218 cities around the world. Revenues have grown year on year, and increased over fivefold times. Named as a market-proven Korean startup expanding into the global market, the company was chosen to participate in K-TECH last year and pitched on GSIIP Demoday last month after going through a three-month acceleration program.
Today, the company launched a new Chinese platform ‘AiyouHanguo’, targeting inbound travelers from China. Based on Chinese travelers’ three main travel purposes in Korea, the service offers three themes: ‘Korean traditional culture’ (contemporary and historical sites), ‘Korean wave trip’ (TV and K-Pop broadcasting sites), and ‘Seoul fashion & trends’ (shopping spots and must-see restaurants). For each theme, the local guide will independently come up with creative route, while travelers can communicate with the local guide on their preferences. The company recently has signed a partnership with Qunar to provide travel packages for Chinese tourists within its platform.
Last year, the company pocketed Series A funding of US$980,000 from Capstone Partners and SmileGate. With both investors close to Chinese internet giant Tencent – Capstone Partners and Tencent having put together US$50 million for co-investing, and both contributing to an online game development company, while Tencent helped SmileGate’s first-person shooter ‘CrossFire‘ succeed in China – the travel app’s China launch will gain from their expertise and experience.
“I can see an ecosystem is now created within our service. There are about six full-time guides who have become millionaires by their unique local tours in our service, earning over US$10,000 every month. There are many guides who earn $1,000 a month,” CEO Donggun Lee said. Anyone can be a local guide after you apply and get through a video interview with the company. The guide decides the fee for the tour, with MyRealTrip taking 20% commission.
Lee started his business following his experience as an exchange student in Germany and traveling in Europe. What made him feel he had enjoyed ‘a real trip’ was not just the scenery, but the people he met. He thought of creating a platform where people could meet in a special moment, where you can visit the place of your dreams. With the slogan ‘real journeys with a local people’, the company had been connecting Korean travelers to overseas guides who speak Korean. But the team will now be concentrating on AiyouHanguo, and aim to capitalize on the huge influx of Chinese visitors to Korea. The company ultimately aims to become a global service, which Chinese people can use to visit Europe or the U.S.
Image Credit: MyRealTrip
Editing by Mike Cormack (@bucketoftongues)