Nowadays, travelling from one country to another — or across the globe — has become a lot less expensive and more convenient. Jet-setters can book flights online, check reviews of hotels on mobile phones, and even print mementos from the trip and have them delivered to their doorstep.

Yuna Kim, Founder, Locaruu

Yuna Kim, Founder, Locaruu

However, increasingly, avid travellers are becoming more demanding of the caliber of trips they go on. There is a new focus, and more than just wanting to see the path less travelled, these consumers desire to immerse their itinerary in local activities.

Enter Locaruu, a Japan-based travel startup, which allows foreign travellers to meet locals and have a more fruitful and meaningful trip — one where they hang out with community and thought leaders in a particular country.

Yuna Kim, Founder, Locaruu, said that her sister, a tour guide with seven to eight years of experience under her belt, was the inspiration behind this idea.

“She often invited her customers (the Japanese travellers) personally to our place and cooked Korean food for them. These Japanese (travellers would send) her … postcards and gifts saying that having Korean food at our place was the most memorable experience to them,” said Kim, who went on to conduct research through talking to travellers on Ginza Street in Tokyo.

“I could confirm that (the market needs this) but at the same time, I couldn’t imagine myself using this service as a customer because I’ve never felt the need for a tour guide on my trips,” added the 34-year-old entrepreneur, who had travelled to Japan at the age of 18 to study at a fashion school. At 23, the adventurous self-proclaimed “ex-problem kid” moved to Canada to study at the University of Toronto.

Some examples of said local activities include “spending a morning shopping with an international model” in the UK, and hiking in Tokyo.

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The solo Founder noted, “I started this by myself. I got some help from my Japanese husband, who was a consultant at (a) strategic management consulting firm, and is working as a financial professional at an IT company now.” However, it seems that she is only toiling alone physically; Kim emphasised that she has been receiving a lot of support from friends and family members.

Prior to starting Locaruu, Kim was a Marketing and Advertising Sales professional in various international companies in Japan, like the current PwC, Eurosport, Google (YouTube) and Dow Jones.

Bringing home the bacon
At the moment, Locaruu earns revenue through two simple tried-and-tested ways. Firstly, for each transaction made on Locaruu, Kim will take a 20 per cent commission fee, and secondly, events can be promoted on the main page for an advertising fee.

“I had to focus on making the product, and finding hosts, but to make Locaruu successful as a global service, I think I’ll need some help from investors — not only the financial help, but also advice from them as my mentors,” added Kim.

Competition from similar companies
From the looks of it, Locaruu does seem very similar to Voyagin, another Japan-based travel experiences marketplace, even though the two are extremely different in terms of website interface. Both websites offer users an opportunity to experience travel in a refreshingly authentic and local way.

However, Kim said that the difference lies in the fact that she is focusing on local stars. “If you could go shopping and get shopping tips from a stylist in New York or take a photo with a famous model in London, wouldn’t it be fun?” asked Kim, who noted that Locaruu has plans to integrate more celebrities into its platform in the near future. For example, one well-known fashion blogger and contributor to Harper’s Bazaar Australia, Margaret Zhang will be joining Locaruu at the end of the month as a local star.

At the moment, anyone can be a local star and guest at the same time, regardless of their country of origin. She explained, “However, my initial focus will be on English-speaking countries such as US, UK, Canada and Australia as host countries and affluent Asian bilinguals as guests.”

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