It’s all about seeking those “#authentic” travel experiences in the age of Instagram – and what’s more genuine than trips designed by, and taken with, a local?
Petaling Jaya-based startup Lokalocal takes a cue from the emerging aspiration and pairs travellers with what they call “local experts” who lead their own trips. The idea, according to Lokalocal co-founder Chin Yoon Khen, is to create a virtual marketplace that lists itineraries with unique local perspectives.
“One of the things that fascinated me is local experience – travellers getting the real local touch on their own,” Chin explains via email.
Here’s where Lokalocal – an amalgamation of the words “Loka” (Tagalog for crazy) and “Local” – comes in, by helping locals push the online presence of their hometown and conversely, allowing travellers to befriend locals.
The idea behind the initiative stems from the Ipoh-born’s experiences while documenting the manufacturing process for traditional trades in Penang.
“Throughout this journey, I realised the best way to experience authentic trips is to make a local friend and walk with them. I thought of matching traditional artisans who would like to be local guides for travellers,” the 32-year-old explains.
Another thing that stimulates Lokalocal’s creation, Chin continues, boils down to the disconnect from local culture in conventional trips organised by most travel agencies.
“Authentic local travel is largely an untapped category in Malaysia and the challenge of building something greatly appealed to me,” he says.
That challenge has certainly paid off. Since its launch in March, Lokalocal has attracted over 720 users between the ages of 25 and 34, averaging 70 users per month.
Part of that success could be attributed to Lokalocal’s endeavour in creating a personalised travel experience while involving the community.
“We focus on community-based tourism, which allows local residents to be involved while emphasising community development. Therefore we connect travellers with local communities and responsible tour operators instead of simply matching them to one tour guide.
“So travellers get to experience trips that are designed to be enjoyable and authentic. They can try out the amazing food and drinks, adventurous treks, immersive cultures, exciting shows, and so much more, which they won’t find with traditional tour companies,” Chin says.
Another key to its success is, of course, the local experts. The individuals on board run the gamut – from a batik maker to a former television journalist, and a working mother with a passion for Indian cuisine to a heritage proponent.
The local experts are sourced by Chin and his team through local connections, their own travels, research, and recommendations from other travellers.
“After an initial review, we will reach out to them to learn more about the experiences they provide. We work with them to share their story in their own words and collect feedback from travellers on how they’re doing,” he says. While everyone can register and craft their own tours for free on Lokalocal, Chin stresses that unique insights as well as remarkable services are key.
“It’s our goal to help travellers find trustworthy, quality experiences that have a distinctly local style,” he explains.
Apart from locals, Lokalocal also features organisations that support local livelihoods while celebrating cultural traditions and heritage. One such example is the UTAR New Village Community Project by Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman.
Lokalocal currently lists over 215 tours conducted by about 85 local experts. The Batang Kali tour is one of the highlights, Chin points out.
The itinerary for that trip consists of trying the Emperor Guava at Organic Guava Fruit Farm, learning how to make loh mee (a Chinese noodle dish) from scratch, and observing the making of a Hokkien traditional wedding delicacy called Mua Lao.
“It creates a far more engaging travel experience that will usually take you far beyond the surface parameters of consumerist travel, and let you take home much more than photographs and souvenirs,” Chin offers.
Another highlight is a day trip to the Valley of Hope in Selangor – the former Sungai Buloh Leprosy Settlement.
“It was once a leper colony, shut out from the outside world. Through this tour, I wish to share the stories of the residents – how their lives and the fate of the settlement were interwoven and sealed in that era,” says Chin.
Moving on, Lokalocal will look at diversifying into village and countryside tours, halal tours, eco-friendly tours as well as experiential tours of ageing trades.
The idea ultimately, Chin says, is to promote rural tourism by highlighting more local venues to travellers.
“We aim to enable everyone to discover unique local experiences, life and culture, by making local friends anytime, everywhere.”