TripRadius.io – The Locals App

We are very excited about the things that are happening with us at KoreanTourGuide.com these days. We just received government funding to do a startup for a new travel app. There is a growing trend of platform businesses around the world that connect travelers with locals, such as Vayable and Triip.me. We want to build out a home-grown version of that adding in our own innovations that are the trademark of Korea, Inc. It’s Uber meets ToursbyLocals meets Meetup.com. KoreanTourGuide.com will still, without a doubt, continue to provide great tours in Korea whereby we connect travelers with tour guides. But now we want to create a sub-entity where we provide another great service connecting travelers with locals to give them – what we believe to be the true local experience.

How do we do that? Well what we plan to do is build out an app like Uber, but rather than hailing a car, you are hailing locals who are ready and willing to show you around your immediate vicinity. You can get on our app, press the location button, and BOOM, BOOM, BOOM, BOOM…on a map 4 to 5 different local people will be around you all within a few hundred meters radius, ready and willing to show you around. You can message them beforehand or book them right away based on price, proximity and profile and they will show up within a matter of minutes. We call it TripRadius.io

These are ordinary people that will show you around the immediate neighborhood or simply take you to that address you are trying to find. They will translate for you, introduce you to their go-to restaurants or just simply hang out, doing the same things they normally do on a normal basis. Things that locals take for granted or don’t put much thought into, from the perspective of the traveler, is a completely unique and unexplored territory for a traveler. This is not asking local people to go out of their way by any means. In fact, it’s something they can do right from wherever they are. They can be at a coffee shop, near their home or even just walking on the street to work. It’s location based so travelers choose guides based on the fact that they are within their proximity.

I’ve been a guide here for about 5 years now. I see tourist behavior and see what they go through here on a day to day basis. And I’m not talking about my own customers, but more so talking about the travelers I see in my periphery. I see their pain points and what they are struggling with. I see opportunity where they are being underserved due to the high barriers of getting a guide.

But I will get into the details more in my future posts. I just wanted to start off a new segment of my blog with an introduction into my new endeavor. Also I want to blog about this new journey into my startup life and talk about my experiences as a means for me to keep myself accountable.

I do believe that this (in one form or another) is the future direction in which travel will go. I don’t think the world is necessarily ready right now, but I do believe that Korea is the place to start. It is a country of early adopters. It has the best internet connectivity in the world and it also is hands down, the safest country in the entire world (granted people can get over this North Korea nuisance). These 3 factors make Korea the perfect ecosystem for an app like this to thrive.

If something is important enough, you should try even if the probable outcome is failure – Elon Musk

8 Things Commonly said by Tourists visiting Korea

Happy New Year 2015! And may this year be another great year for people to come to Korea.

A very rare species in Korea:  The Garbage Can
A very rare species in Korea: The Garbage Can

Being a tour guide in Korea, it’s funny to hear some of the same comments and questions over and over again from tourists. In doing so I’ve compiled some the top 8 as well as responses to debunk a lot of what is said or misconceived about Korea. Whether you are visiting Korea or are an expat entertaining guests who visit here, it’s good to equip yourself with some knowledge on how to address some of these observations. 1. “Since Korea is home to Samsung, Galaxy phones must be cheaper. Where do I get one?”Wrong. Samsung phones, as well as a lot of other products of Korea are actually more expensive here than anywhere else in the world. Even with the taxes and tariffs, you are better off buying them where you are from. Samsung claims that they are being fair with the prices due to the difference in “distribution systems”. What does this mean? Probably something to do with the vast competition other markets have vs Korea’s limited competition (which in turn creates a cartel). Whatever the reason is, bottom line: Samsung products are NOTICEABLY more expensive in Korea when in fact they are originated from here. In fact, a great gift for your hosts in Korea would be to bring them a new Samsung phone.

The Galaxy S5 phone sells for 918,800 Korean Won or approximately $830USD
The Galaxy S5 phone sells for 918,800 Korean Won or approximately $830USD

* On a side note: Because of this oligopoly, it tempts other foreign companies to come in and take advantage of us as well. Take for instance H&M and more recently IKEA. These companies are globally known as cheaper brands, but when they first came to Korea, they tried to charge higher than their normal prices here. They soon lowered their prices after informed netizens called them out on this. Too bad Korean netizens don’t have power over our home grown companies. I really need a Hyundai right now. 2. “Ooh, they have cider at this Korean restaurant. Let’s order that!” – Wrong. Cider in Korea is not the alcoholic drink that you are thinking of. It’s actually a word to describe a non-alchoholic carbonated drink similar to that of Sprite or 7-Up. So if you order cider at a restaurant, often times you will get that or a Korean local take on the beverage with Kin or Chilsung Cider which tastes lighter. Cider one of those English loan words that have been beaten up pretty bad after being loaned over two times through the Japanese Occupation (1910 – 1945). If you can just imagine a Japanese person back then trying to show a Korean how sophisticated they were with English you would come up with words like nan-ning-gu (난닝구) and bban-seu (빤스). Sound familiar? Somewhat? Kinda? It’s a derivative of the words “running-shirt” and “pants”, but you have say it a couple times in your head before you can actually make the connection. You then have to take it to the second-derivative to fully understand that it actually means…hold it…wait for it… “tank top” and “underwear”, in the Korean language. You can’t call this Konglish because it’s not our fault. But older-generation Koreans will use the words back at foreigners fully expecting that they will understand it thinking it’s English.

it's not what you think it is
it’s not what you think it is

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The DMZ Tour is NOT the DMZ tour!

Or at least, it’s not the tour attraction in Korea that companies will lead you to believe. It’s called something else. The DMZ is the De-Militarized Zone  and it is the border that cuts Korea in half by North and South Korea. It gets a lot of attention in the media, so a lot of people request to go there through tour companies. Just about all tourists going to Korea for the first time will believe that the DMZ tour will take you to see North Korean and South Korean soldiers standing across from each other at the border staring down one another in a game to see who flinches first.

This is the JSA Tour that lots of tourists mistake as the DMZ Tour
This is the JSA Tour that lots of tourists mistake as the DMZ Tour
North Korean Soldier off in the distance
North Korean Soldier off in the distance

Yet tour companies will lead you astray and show you something else. What people are WANTING to see is actually the JSA Tour. That is where you see the soldiers and go inside the blue MAC building where you are technically in North Korea.  JSA stands for Joint Security Area and it is the tour that people are usually thinking in the minds of the depicted standoff between North and South. You should really make sure you clarify that you want the JSA Tour and not the DMZ Tour. 

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5 Reasons why we pay $4 for a Cup of Coffee in Korea

There are more Starbucks within the city limits of Seoul than any other city in the entire world, according to Quartz. Now that’s a statement to start with. Yet this is only the beginning of how rampant the coffee culture has grown in Korea.

IMG_3211 Part of the reason is that it’s the only thing they recognize since most other signs naturally are in Korean. But for the most part, we love our coffee and take that love affair to an extreme.

Coffee shops like Caffe Bene, Tom ‘n Toms, Edyia Cafe are now bidding up all the real estate prices of every street corner in Seoul. Even non-traditional cafe companies like Nescafe are trying to get in on the action. What is it about the coffee culture here that even with all the competition we have, we still manage to pay at least $4 a cup? It could be a cartel, but we have our theories:

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A brief look at the Seoul Metro and getting around

South Korea is a nation of about 50 million people…

..of which, 24 million of us live in the greater Seoul area. That’s roughly half the entire population.

10 million of us live within the Seoul city limits, but then there’s an additional 14 million of us that live in these surrounding satellite cities like Incheon and Bundang that make up the Gyeong-gi Province.

But we are all inter-connected through a network of subways, buses and trains that make up our public transportation system here. It’s a system that’s heralded by not only Koreans, but expats living here because its breadth, depth and ease of use. Number-coded, color-coded, in 4 different languages it makes anyone coming here for the first time feel like a true Seoulite.

It is also said that you can meet any one of the 24 million people in just about an hour!

…granted that you meet half-way^^

But it just goes to show here that if you need to meet someone here in Seoul, you really can! This makes connections in Korea easy, meeting your friends, making business happen or stalking your favorite K-pop celebrity.

I can’t stress how clean and safe our transportation is, not to mention Korea in general.

The Dark Side of Korean Tourism

No matter how you slice it and dice it, 40% is still not a good number for tourism. Especially when you compare it to China and Japan. As a tour guide in the Korean tourism industry, after reading this article and seeing the news segment that relates to it, I can say that it doesn’t just stop there. There are old-boy tour companies here that partner up with their buddy-buddy shopping centers and other places where tourists are told to spend money. They herd tourists around from one commission-based shopping to another. Sometimes you get a place added onto your itinerary to a so-called “museum”, only to find that it is a one-room exhibit explaining what kimchi is with the other parts of the warehouse as showrooms dedicated to selling overpriced products to locked-in tourist. This is not just Korea, but as I’ve traveled all throughout Asia, this seems to be standard practice. As a developed nation Korea should look beyond this now.

Adding in these mandatory commission-based stops allows many of the tourism companies to lower their tour fees to what’s called a “minus tour”. Minus tours are local tour companies “buying” tourists from foreign tour companies on the expectations that their souvenir-buying commissions will pay for the “minus” deficit they incur from purchase.  This is not tourism. This is probably closer to being a bookie managing a sports gambling book of bettings.  Tour groups are often tagged with the odds of buying “souvenirs” given their specific demographics. Some tour companies hire statisticians to often place value and hedge against less profitable tour groups. Overall the tours are run poorly, not being sensitive to the tourists needs as well as taking away from the chance of seeing other parts of Korea. 

This needs to stop. Korean is not a 3rd world market here.

Continue reading The Dark Side of Korean Tourism