Netherlands-based startup Withlocals is a peer-to-peer marketplace where local people offer home dining, tour experiences, and other local activities. It’s an Airbnb that goes beyond accommodation to sell travel experiences in three categories – Eat Withlocals, Tours Withlocals, and Activities Withlocals.
Withlocals launched an alpha website back in June and is planning to launch its beta in mid-November. Although, the site has not officially launched yet, it has over 40,000 Facebook fans and over 100,000 site visitors per month.
Although, the company was born in Europe, Withlocals focuses 100 percent on Asia. The startup’s main office is in Holland but it has over 70 local staff in Asia working as ambassadors. There are also over 10,000 locals across Asia who applied to be hosts for people who want to share their knowledge, skills, and culture with tourists. They vary widely from home-chefs, artists, to martial-arts specialists and fishermen.
How it started
Willem Maas, the startup’s co-founder has traveled to many places all over the world and has especially fallen in love with Southeast Asia. His many authentic travel experiences inspired the concept of Withlocals.
For Eat Withlocals, the idea came up in Sri Lanka during co-founder Marijn Maas’ honeymoon trip. He and his wife coincidentally experienced a home dinner with local Sri Lankan people and felt it was an amazing experience. Since then, he thought, “wouldn’t it be great if all travelers could have an experience like this?”
Marijn tells Tech in Asia:
We love the sharing economy and wanted to give travelers and locals in Asia the opportunity to connect with one another.
Sharing economy principal
Using the principles of the sharing economy, Withlocals wants to enable people to earn a sustainable income by doing something they’re passionate about. The site connects local people directly to travelers through its marketplace, making it possible for a much broader group of people to earn money in the tourism industry. On the website, travelers can find verified local and authentic travel experiences in the categories of Home Dining, Tours and Activities.
Of course, Withlocals is not the only sharing economy startup in Asia. Here’s a list of 10 Asian travel startups that crowdsource tours from local guides. There’s also Plateculture, which offers similar services for home cooked food with locals. And, of course, Airbnb is quite popular in Asia, too.
Regarding his competitors, Marijn also commented:
We are one of the first to introduce the Home-dining category across Asia. In this category you have the recent startups Eatwith and Cookening, but until now they have only been active in the US and Europe. We specifically chose Asia. We can focus our marketing activities on the second largest and fastest growing travel economy in the world. In the Asian tours and activities category, traditional travel agencies are our biggest competitors. Looking at online marketplaces, two recent startups, Voyagin and Triip.me, also target the Asian market, but we are the only platform offering a total local experience for travelers from Home-dining to tours to activities with locals.
Withlocals listed the following reasons why it picked Asia as its battle ground:
- It is the second largest and fastest growing tourism region in the world.
- There is no dominant market leader yet in the Asian tours and activity marketplaces. A concept like ours was not possible even a few years ago due to low internet penetration in many regions of Asia at that time.
- Withlocals is the one of the first cross-Asian “home-restaurants” marketplaces.
- “We love Southeast Asia.” Withlocals team members travel there and some have Southeast Asian roots.
- The success of an online marketplace is all about traffic. Many people who’ve had beautiful ideas in the tours and activity category didn’t make it because of the lack of traffic (website visitors). By focusing all its marketing on a specific region, Withlocals believes it can create a successful marketplace where demand (travelers) and supply (local hosts) are equally in balance.
- “Most importantly is the fact that we can make a difference for the people in this region. We want to use the principles of the sharing economy for those who can use it the most. The real sharing economy. Our mission is to enable people to earn a sustainable income by doing something they’re passionate about.”
Withlocals doesn’t charge local hosts anything. They can publish their offers and home dinners for free on the website. However, the site charges travelers a 20 percent commission instead. That’s definitely a way to create traction and encourage locals to participate. But I’m still skeptical if the tourists would be willing to pay more since competitors such as Plateculture choose to charge the hosts rather than the tourists. We’ll see which business model prevails.
(Editing by Paul Bischoff)