On July 19, the Kingdom celebrated its very first tour guide booking platform, when Matong Co. Ltd. launched Guide Direk! With this brand new platform, international and local tourists can enjoy the knowledge and company of a tour guide on their travels, while tour guides can earn a larger income without affiliations to agents or hotels.
Guide Direk was started by Khim Maland and Lim Seng Tong, who used their significant experience in the tourism industry. Mr Khim was able to provide his insights being trained as a tour guide and Mr Lim, who is a tourism student, understands the industry well. Together, they were able to place themselves in the shoes of various stakeholders of the ecosystem, and create an application that could change the tourism scene in our Kingdom for the better. Let’s find out more from them!
The following interview has been edited for clarity, length and flow.
What motivated you to start Guide Direk?
Khim Maland (K): I have been training as a tour guide in Siem Reap and the surrounding regions. However, during my studies, I’ve felt like there was something lacking in the service and market. So I reached out to Seng Tong, and we started the idea of creating the platform, where tour guides can register and tourists can do bookings online. This platform helps to widen the market and network for tour guides, so they can find clients independently by promoting themselves.
What differentiates Guide Direk from other tourism platforms?
K: There are quite a lot of platforms, not only locally but internationally as well. But the unique thing about us is that we give opportunities to each and every one of the tour guides. So during the registration, we ask them to fill out their availability days and stuff like that. Tour guides can set and manage their own prices, profile and biography, and set flexible timings completely to their schedule. We are not going to take commissions from the tour guides, there will be no cut or hidden price beyond the prices they have determined. We only take subscription fees after a three months free trial.
What was the process like, making this platform a reality?
Lim Seng Tong (ST): So basically behind the idea, we came from a place of understanding. Khim was a tour guide and I’m a student of tourism management. I have done a lot of research on the integration of ICT into tourism, and that’s how we started. We wanted to find the pain point of the industry, so we discussed the problem encountered with the tour guides. We then drafted our Unique Selling Point, in which to make it more convenient and flexible for these tour guides. We built our prototype then approached many parties such as the government, banks, and that’s how it started.
What are some of the main challenges that the tourism industry is facing?
ST: Our core concept is to promote three areas: History, culture and nature. The problem with that is that other platforms may not promote certified tour guides. They may engage locals that can bring tourists around, mainly to experience lifestyles without learning about the uniqueness of Cambodia. But we want to spread our uniqueness to the world, and we can only do that through knowledgeable guides who will impart this information.
How would you imagine the tourism industry to be like in a few years?
K: As part of government policies, everything has been digitalised in terms of paralleling the economy with Industrial Revolution 4.0. We can see that many services in Cambodia have been digitalised, we can do bookings online for buses and hotels. People don’t need to go the the place physically to know more, but can simply do research online. But the idea is that you need a person to explain the experiences and the historical perspective, the real experience. Cambodia is more than just what tourists have been exposed to, with history, culture and customs. It’s fantastic that the industry is digitalising, but sometimes we do need to take a step back in order for these tourists to get the full experience.
What are the opportunities you see for the tourism industry?
K: The total number of tour guides in Cambodia was just announced to be 10,000 by the Ministry of Tourism, which was surprising. The government is willing to train and produce more tour guides to meet the demand of 3 million tourists per year. We hope that there’s more we can do in providing services to meet this demand. Most of the tourists visit a few provinces without realising that there are many unique things about other regions as well. Allowing more exposure would bring benefits not only to the tour guides, but to the local economies as well as nationwide.
What is the greatest victory in your journey thus far?
K: Although it has been a short time since we began operations, the number of tour guides registering was unexpected. We have received a lot of calls and registrations. Although they have yet to be approved on our platform, this really indicates the interest and the intention.
ST: We are happy to see that, and we have a long list of tour guides other than our current ones to verify. We didn’t expect to go this far, and we have received a lot of positive feedback. They may not be fully aware of how to use the platform yet, but we have been and will continue to work closely with them to make them comfortable with the application.
What was the biggest challenge in your journey?
K: The main challenge was letting the tour guides understand, that is the problem. Majority of tour guides have never used this platform and they go through third-party bookings instead. But they need to understand that this is helping them. We try to get the qualified tour guides, because what they need is to assure the clients that they are documented by the Ministry of Tourism. We want them to think in the long-term, so we teach them the fundamental skills of planning schedules and itineraries independently instead of spoon-feeding them, while staying flexible.
What will you keep in mind going forward in your entrepreneurial journey?
ST: What I bear in mind as an entrepreneur is to always find ways to be more flexible, and to place myself in the shoes of others. We put ourselves in the shoes of these tour guides although we are a for-profit business. We always seek the pain points in the industry and keep in mind the tourism ecosystem as a whole. As tourism is one of the main drivers of the Cambodian economy, it is important to bear in mind the needs of the stakeholders. That is what keeps us going.
What are your plans for Guide Direk in the coming years?
K: Of course, this is the first phase of the startup, but we want them to feel more familiar with the application. We want to add other features as well, in terms of calling, messaging or instant chats. The idea is to allow the tour guides and the clients to be familiar with each other even before they meet, so clients will have trust in the tour guides to bring them around.
What advice would you give aspiring entrepreneurs?
K: If you see a problem, find ways to solve it. Even though you have to start small, it is never too late for you to start. Even when you fail, it is an opportunity for people to help you. You need to take risks in order for your business to succeed. No one else can do it for you, because you are the only one who knows your business idea well and where the business can go.
ST: You can never know how it could turn out. Many young entrepreneurs find the need to know everything, to learn everything. You have to take action now, if you leave problems as they are, other people will find solutions for it. You don’t know what you don’t know, so take risks and go for it. Seize the opportunity when there is still a chance. It is more important to know what you are doing, and where you want your business to go.
Geeks in Cambodia can’t wait to see the impact Guide Direk will have on our tourism landscape, and we look forward to the great work the team will produce in the time to come! For more information, visit their website or Facebook page here!