Transforming Touri...

Transforming Tourism in Nepal, One Trek at a Time

Digital entrepreneurs often talk excitedly about disrupting industries, but rarely do you find such excitement when talking about guidebooks. Ashish Shrestha, one of the founders of Honeyguide, wants to give travelers to Nepal a better all-around experience, from booking their travel to navigating the trails and learning about the local culture.

Last year, the World Bank Group-supported Young Innovations held a pitch competition and Shrestha was among a group of Nepalese entrepreneurs who won a trip to Slush, a major entrepreneurship conference in Finland. Check out our interview with him.

Kathmandu, Nepal © Curt Carnemark / World Bank Kathmandu, Nepal © Curt Carnemark / World Bank

How did you start Honeyguide?

Growing up in Nepal, I have been trekking since I was very young. When I meet tourists, they would always ask us questions like: “What’s the name of that mountain?” or “What kind of bird is that?” But guidebooks were only giving directions like “go from here to here.” So we thought we could do better, by giving people real insights into culture and the nature surrounding them.

Another issue was that booking services and information sources were all separate; you’d book through an agent, and use a guidebook for information. So that was the whole inspiration for Honeyguide, to provide all the information and services they need in a single place. At Honeyguide, we want to turn tourists into travelers, and travelers into experts!

What was the biggest challenge while building your business?

I really didn’t know about developing a business, so it was fun but it’s also very hard. Also, the start-up ecosystem in Nepal is just taking its baby steps, so access to finance is still a problem.

What do you want people to know about Nepalese culture?

Let me use the Mani walls as an example. The Mani walls are long stone walls close to the villages with Buddhist inscriptions written on each stone. So, many guidebooks describe them as an expression of religion to make them more exotic. However, the functional reason for the walls is to help shepherds move their herds back and forth from the villages.   

So, this has been our approach to writing content. We have tried to go beyond the exotic narrative and provide a true understanding of the local culture. Once you understand it, you realize that all cultures are basically the same — that they’re just reacting to their own landscapes, and solving their problems in different ways.

What’s your marketing approach?

First, we aim to reach people while they’re still planning and researching their trip online, so search engine optimization, etc. Second, we’ve developed several partnership agreements through which local airlines, guidebook shops, and gear shops are all helping to promote our app.

What is your business model?

Honeyguide is looking to merge both information sources, like Lonely Planet, and online booking sites. So, we started with developing content and next, we’re building a booking app. In the current market, you often have two middlemen between the consumers and these service providers; for example, a booking site and a local agent. So, the middlemen are able to squeeze a lot of margin out of the service provider. These could be guides who are only earning $15-20 per day for seasonal work. If we could provide a platform for all the local service providers to come together, these guys would finally have a chance to earn their fair share, and the overall quality of service would go up. Honeyguide would charge a reasonable commission on each booking.

   The Honeyguide Team in Nepal. © Ashish Shrestha
 

Can you share some stats on your company’s progress thus far?

We started in November 2014 with three co-founders, and have since hired five employees. The Honeyguide app has been downloaded 2,000 times by Android users and 1,000 times in the iPhone App Store. For our paid app, we have earned an average revenue of around $9 per user.

Tell us about your journey to Slush, and your experience there.

The organizers, Young Innovations, did a great job of reaching out to local start-ups and organizing the competition. I believe there were 35 start-ups, 15 pitched in the competition, and three of us were selected for the Slush Global Impact Accelerator. Slush was an amazing, eye-opening experience! My favorite part was the pitch class. Since I came back, I’ve insisted that everyone in the company needs to learn how to pitch. Yes, we all understand the business, but we need to be able to break it down and explain it in less than three minutes.

Where do you see Honeyguide in five years?

Five years from now, we really want to build something similar for the Indian Himalayas, the Alps, the Rockies — wherever there are mountains, we want to be there!


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