Withlocals is peer-to-peer marketplace that connects travelers with locals through food and experiences such as tours, activities and home dinners in Southeast Asia. Their offerings cover a broad range of home dinners, cultural, athletic and homestay experiences ranging from a music, meditation and tea ceremony in Malaysia, to parasailing in Bali, or a home dinner with a local family (grandmother and kids included!).
Many of the prices for these unique local experiences are very reasonable. For instance a meal and homestay in Vietnam near Ho Chi Minh city includes transportation for only €11.25.
In December 2014 Withlocals launched their first mobile app with cool new functionality: “Ask a local” which encourages travelers to get in touch with local hosts for travel tips and recommendation during and before their trips. In preparation for my upcoming trip to SE Asia I downloaded the app, reviewed some options for activities, and interviewed Madalina Buzdugan, the Communication Manager at Withlocals.
ShareTraveler: Can you tell me about the growth of your business since it launched in 2013?
Madalina Buzdugan: At this moment, we have a supportive 100,000 community throughout our social media channels, 70% are from Southeast Asia and we’ve gathered tens of thousands of subscribers on our website. Withlocals is currently present in 9 countries in SEA (Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia) and we’ve just launched our first mobile app.
ST: Does Withlocals screen hosts to ensure quality experiences?
Madalina: Absolutely! Our hosts receive personal visits from our local ambassadors where we check a series of criteria (mindset, attitude, English skills, hygiene, overall conditions etc). Our ambassadors try out the experiences and take free professional photos for each host, thus ensuring that all of our experiences are local, authentic and unique.
ST: What will the launch of the mobile app do to enhance the experience of your members?
Madalina: The Withlocals app makes it easy to chat and connect with local hosts, book experiences in a few clicks and ultimately build up holiday plans. To add even more functionality to it, the app includes a personal administration dashboard, location-based suggestions and reviews from other travelers.
ST: I see you offer people the option to “ask a local” on the mobile app. Is this a general opportunity for travelers to ask questions about anything, or just questions about the tours and meals offered by people on your site?
Madalina: We wanted to help both travelers and locals connect even more through the “Ask a Local” functionality in our new app. It enables travelers to get directly in touch with locals for travel tips and recommendations while also giving them access to authentic real experiences such as home dinners, local tours and activities.
ST: How do you select the locals participating in the ask a local service?
Madalina: All of our hosts have been asked about their availability to be in this new function and we’ve made sure that their preference was taken into account. We work with a network of around 100 local ambassadors that personally visit each one of our hosts so we’re positive each one of them are suitable for the app new functionality. We simply took into consideration their preference, logistics and access to technology.
ST: Do you have plans to expand beyond the countries you are currently in?
Madalina: Yes, 2015 will be a great year for our expansion plans. We can’t reveal anything yet, but you’ll hear about us for sure. Let’s just say it’s time to expand beyond Southeast Asia.