Bye-bye mass tourism, hello healing touch

The markets for tours and activities and medical and wellness are booming and two Dutch companies are tapping into these emerging travel trends

Unlike its unwelcome boom in tourism, the Netherlands has no intention of discouraging its booming tech sector. Its investor newsletter seemingly having no trouble finding 100 companies to applaud for 2019, with a good scattering of travel companies included. Among the eclectic mix, ranging from the huge to small creative start-ups, are and

Withlocals’ numbers seem to indicate that it is in the right place at the right time, tapping into the trend of personalised and private tours and activities, be it music, food and sport or culture. Crunchbase gives its global marketing offer as 1,200 fully customisable, 100% private tours and activities led by 900 local hosts in dozens of international cities.

Speaking at EyeforTravel’s recent Digital Strategy Summit, Matthijs Keij, Chief Executive Officer, Withlocals, outlined how the group is looking to end mass tourism and shift towards what he referred to as “personalised travelling at scale”.

 Withlocals is looking to end mass tourism and shift towards “personalised travelling at scale”

EyeforTravel research noted some time ago that travel demand had shifted from destination to experience-led vacations, and Withlocals homed in on that.  It liked the look of a personalised tour market forecast to be worth $6.8 billion by 2020 and believed it could capture 20% of that.

The result is a peer-to-peer marketplace that puts hosts directly in contact with tourists, bringing personalised travel to the mass market at an affordable cost. It offers private tours as well as activities based on each traveller’s passion, and hosts take travellers off the beaten path to experience destinations like the locals do. 

Withlocals outlined how the group is looking to end mass tourism and shift towards what he referred to as “personalised travelling at scale”.

Proof that it has its marketing right is not just the tens of thousands of travellers it says it places every month with hosts in 30 cities across Asia and Europe. Founders Marijn and Willem Maas have just negotiated an impressive injection of €8 million from UK-based investment group Keen Venture Partners and others. That is just a couple of years after it raised €3.5 million. This time the money will be invested in adding more cities, while strengthening its existing community of local hosts and offer more experiences.

What the company understands is that local guides are crucial and further expansion of the network is one of the cornerstones for further growth. The investment will also be used to allow customers to book a tour in their own language.

Room for focused growth

Withlocals has been in business since 2013, so has had time to hone its offer. Forecast to be worth $183-bn by 2020, according to PhocusWright, the market for tours and activities segment is booming. With cities and bog-standard tours increasingly chock-a-block, Keij believes that Withlocals offers a welcome alternative to skip-the-line tickets with personalized and unique experiences.

Would-be hosts can find full instructions on the website for all their concerns, from tips and ideas on how to create an offer, what to charge and how to get paid. The answer to the latter being through Withlocals – managing payment is one of the services offered by the platform. For its services, Withlocals takes 20% of the total hosting price.

In London Keij stressed three key tips for success:

  • Identify a unique angle,
  • Make it personal (personalisation is key!)
  • Connect with the tours and activities ecosystem.

For travellers there is an endless choice of offerings on the platform from home dining to learning a craft, or seeing a little-known part of a city. Sign up to create and account and book is simple and payment is made through PayPal or with a credit card. If the host or the experience is not available on the requested date, then Withlocals refunds the money.

Withlocals’ marketing strategy is based on the best research - the founders’ own experiences. The simplicity of the concept was inspired in part, Marijn Maas told travel community platform, by his honeymoon. He is quoted saying: “When travelling to Sri Lanka for my honeymoon, I stayed in the most luxurious and exclusive resorts and travelled to all the tourist hot-spots in style. Because that’s what people do on a honeymoon, right? But when me and my wife returned home and were asked what had stuck with us the most, it was that one evening where we, by sheer coincidence, ended up having dinner with a local Sri Lankan family. It’s at the local family’s home that we had the best food, got the most special travel tips and had a real taste of the Sri Lankan culture.”

The experience led to what is really rather a simple idea: give travellers affordable, unique and personalised experiences, while allowing local hosts to make money doing something they love! It seems to be working!

Healing touch

Heal2Go founders have their eyes on even bigger numbers – the rapidly growing medical and wellness markets. The global wellness industry grew 12.8% in the last two years, from a $3.7 trillion market in 2015 to $4.2 trillion in 2017, according to the 2018 Global Wellness Economy Monitor, released by the non-profit Global Wellness Institute (GWI). The global medical tourism market size is expected to reach $179.6 billion by 2026, registering a 21.9% CAGR during the forecast period, according to a report carried by Research & Markets.

The global wellness industry grew 12.8% in the last two years, from a $3.7 trillion market in 2015 to $4.2 trillion in 2017

Heal2Go, created by three students at Amsterdam Science Park, is still a fledgling, having won its first backers only last year. They told venture capital platform Crunchbase that their business model was to help medical providers start medical tourism businesses with a portal to gather patients internationally.

“Hospitals and clinics can easily increase their ‘online visibility’ and ‘revenue’ by registration to attract more international patients,” they explained to Crunchbase. Specialised listing and ‘almost’ boundless marketing options are offered to clinics after accreditation and quality reviews.

In summary, Heal2Go describes itself as “angles of a business triangle; clinics, patients and Heal2Go as a ‘treatment search engine platform’. Patients are looking for the best option (best quality & best price) for treatments. Clinics want to reach more patients for providing medicine. Heal2Go is listing various treatment options from accredited clinics and hospitals worldwide and simplifies the complex process of booking medical travel for patients.”

As seedtable comments, the Amsterdam tech scene is far from quiet!

Speaking of which, the agenda and speaker list for EyeforTravel Amsterdam (Nov 28-29) is taking shape. We hope to see you there! 

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