When I Like Local launched last year I wrote a brief overview of their peer to peer travel experiences and homestays. Because of their focus on Southeast Asia, I recently spent some time on the I Like Local website researching potential activities for my upcoming trip. And I had the opportunity to interview Sanne Meijboom, the founder of I Like Local, about her vision for the company and how they are different from typical tours.
I think one of the more unique aspects of I Like Local is the homestay opportunities they offer in many Southeast Asian countries. These experiences range from a day or two up to a week or more. These stays are very affordable, and for people looking to experience life in a village the homestays offer a truly unique opportunity. I’m not sure I will have time for a homestay, but I’ll definitely be trying out at least a one-day activity. Stay tuned for reports back from my adventures in Southeast Asia.
ShareTraveler: The tag line on your website reads “See the REAL world…” Can you tell me how you see the traveler’s experience with I Like Local differing from traditional tours?
Sanne Meijboom: Many traditional tours focus on large groups and miss the personal touch with the people of that particular country. Most of the time they only give a general picture of a city or country and let people observe and see, but not experience. In general these tours also add a high fee on top of the price of the local, or even negotiate with the local for a better price. In these cases, both the local and traveler are not getting the best price.
As a traveler myself I know that you get more insight and an in depth experience if you are in close contact with the local people. It’s so rewarding and will let you return home with an unforgettable memory. Therefore we are trying to bridge the gap, but in a responsible way that will create a win-win situation for all involved.
All of our activities are focused on giving travelers more insight into the daily life of local people. Travelers get to really participate and have that personal interaction. To realize this we prefer private groups or a maximum of 5 to 6 people and the homestays we offer have a capacity of 4 rooms maximum.
As there is no fee for the locals to participate in the I Like Local concept, they are getting the best price, and so is the traveler. We just charge a very small service fee. In doing this, we give locals an opportunity to earn money in a simple way, by providing them a worldwide market to offer their services with an optimal support from our side (editorial and marketing support) and the traveler is getting a memorable experience.
ST: How do you select the hosts offering activities and homestays? Does I Like Local screen each one to ensure quality experiences?
Sanne: We handpick most of the hosts ourselves and are always looking for the best and most unique activities or places to stay. When people approach us directly we have certain guidelines they have to meet before becoming a part of I Like Local. Besides that we ask for references, have personal contact with all of them on a regular basis and try to visit them if possible. This in comparison with a lot of peer-to-peer platforms like AirBnB, Homestay.com etc.
ST: What sort of feedback are you getting from travelers so far?
Sanne: People are really excited and amazed by the friendliness and purity of the local people (hosts). They are generally very inspired to try more activities that we have to offer. This along with the personal connection they were able to have was the most rewarding experience.
ST: Do you get feedback from the hosts about the impact of this additional income to their lives?
Sanne: That’s indeed our goal, but at this moment we are still in an early stage (as we launched in June 2014) to already make a huge impact on their lives. Our plans are in place, but I guess it will take a couple of years before we can quantify such gains.
ST: Why did you focus on Southeast Asia?
Sanne: This is one of the fastest growing tourist destinations. Globally travelers are discovering new places to visit in these parts and there is a shift in the kind of tourism. More and more people seek inspiration and more authentic ways to peek into the lives of people and places they visit.
We can add value here as there are still a lot of people living below the poverty line. We are a small helping hand that can give them a global outreach. Also, currently I am living there myself.
ST: Do you have plans to expand beyond the countries you are currently in?
Sanne: Yes. First we will be further expanding and increasing our offer in Asia. The next step is expanding to Africa and South/Mid America. We are only going to offer destinations where we really can add value.
ST: Can you tell me anything about the growth of your business since it launched in 2014?
Sanne: We launched the platform in June 2014, so we are still quite new. Since the launch we doubled the number of activities, the number of locals grew 80%, a lot of volunteers are offering their help, and slowly we are receiving more and more bookings. As the word is spreading, a lot of hosts have approached us to have their activities registered on I Like Local. That is a good sign. If the hosts appreciate our services, that means we are on the right track!
We did also gain our fair share of media attention, which has been a great experience so far.