Launched in 2014, i-likelocal.com is a sustainable, social travel platform that enables travelers to book authentic, local travel experiences from and with people in Asia and Africa.
Founded by Kenyan-based Sanne Meijboom, the platform was created with the goal in mind to bring an in depth, unique, local experience to travelers and at the same time creating an easy and simple way for people in developing countries to get access to a worldwide market and earn money. Meijboom founded the site when she was traveling and living around the world with her husband and 3-year-old daughter before settling in Kenya last year.
“I have a curiosity about other cultures and countries and a drive to do something that matters,” Meijboom says. “I was done with my job as a business consultant that was most of the time about short-term gains and realizing cost reductions for corporate organizations. More and more I asked myself the question what I, as an outsider, could really change in these organizations and to what extend these organizations had a positive impact on their environment. I noticed this impact was minimal.”
She then realized she wanted to do something that could create an impact.
“When the dream of my husband and me became reality to move abroad for a while, I quit my job. One thing I knew for sure; in my next job I wanted to start something for myself around my passion for other cultures and that could create a positive impact,” she told TechMoran.
As a frequent traveler she had noticed that the best travel experiences were the encounters with local people. So she thought how beautiful would it be if she could connect these travelers and locals directly, a win-win for both. This is how I Like Local started.
I Like Local works simply.
People can search, find travel inspiration and book authentic local experiences like homestays, farmstays, short tours and other local activities from locals online. 100% of the money asked by the locals for their activities is directly paid to them. 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 add a small service fee on top of the price of the local to make the platform also available to others.
According to her, the biggest challenge was getting the online payment up and running. This was something she really had underestimated but soon realized many payment providers didn’t have any contracts with financial institutions in the countries she was targeting or it differentiated too much. At the end she decided that only the firm’s service fee would be paid online and the rest would be paid on location. This is still working very well.
“The current challenge we are facing is scaling up and reaching the next growth stage,” she says. “So far it has been self-funded, but we are looking for external funding later this year.”
Meijboom says Asia is the biggest growth market in terms of travel. It is quite developed, relatively safe, people speak English and it is easy to travel. Asia is still her focus market.
“I started with Africa as we moved to Nairobi and I saw potential although I think this market is still in the early phase for this type of travel. Mid and South America will be next, but the main problem here is the language barrier. The lower and middle class people we normally work with can often hardly speak English in these countries and this is a requirement in order to be able to provide a good online service to travelers,”she quips.
Currently the firm’s focus is on creating a proven concept which means optimizing its sales funnel, and making the website convert. She says the firm will do by onsite optimization and looking for partnerships with related businesses to generate sales and traffic.
Unlike other travel sites, I Like Local gives locals access to a worldwide market, receive marketing- and financial support from the firm and what they directly gain from travelers is a cultural exchange that connects and creates memorable experiences for both locals and travelers alike.
For safety, I Like Local makes sure it has a personal contact with the local and curate the experience together. People can’t create a page themselves on the firm’s website like for example with Airbnb.com. They can notify the firm via its website that they would like to offer something. The firm then does the screening.
“We don’t pick people from the street, but only work with people who have some kind of experience whether it is as a homestay owner, running a farm or showing people around. We also ask for references of previous clients or guests. This works really well,” she adds.
Tourism income is still unequally distributed on a large scale in Asia and other third world countries, the firm’s goal is to reach scale so that it can also bring income there where people need it most. In future she says she wants to make sure the experiences on I Like Local keep their authenticity and don’t become too touristy when locals see more opportunities.