Lim, Hyemin: once a part-timer selling red ginseng becomes a CEO of an online travel agency2017-08-16Hit:300
One day, Lim, Hye-min found a part-time job working for a travel agency specialized in tours for Chinese tourists. It so happened that she was enjoying studying Chinese, so she was thrilled to get that part-time job. However, it turned out that she was actually in charge of selling red ginseng. Standing next to a Chinese guide zealously promoting red ginseng, she had to nod about everything the guide said and feverishly shout ‘really good’ in Chinese.
“I was very disappointed. Even though that was the first time I had ever seen the brand, the tourists were so satisfied and wanted to continue buying the product. It was heart-breaking. At the same time, I made up my mind that I need to develop a proper Korean travel program. So I quit the job in three days and started Creatrip.”
Creatrip specializes in tours for Taiwan and Hong Kong tourists and this is their competitive niche.
Last February, Creatrip received seed investment of KRW 200 million from KAIST Venture Investment. In December of 2015, it received the grand prize from SVCA Asian Social Venture Competitionand was selected as a preliminary creative tourism company by the Korea Tourism Organization. Thanks to this connection, it has an office in the Tourist Venture Nursing Center inside the Korea Tourism Organization building in Cheonggyecheon, Seoul, Korea.
Creatrip introduces tourist attractions in Korea to foreigners. Starting as a website, it has recently launched a mobile application. The employees have found host spots and restaurants around the country by going around themselves. The purpose of Creatrip’s establishment is ‘Let all international visitors Korea like Koreans’.
Creatrip does more than just introduce touring sites. The competitiveness of Creatrip lies in differentiation. Rather than introducing Korea’s representative foods such as ‘bulgogi’ and ‘bibimbap’ Creatrip introduces Korean foods, Creatrip focuses on introducing the latest trends for Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For example, it presents ‘Yeonnam-dong Dessert’, and a new night view ‘Busan the Bay 101’. The main customers are Chinese tourists, especially from Taiwan and Hong Kong.
“Taiwan and Hong Kong have a mature touring culture. More than half of the population travels abroad each year. Compared to the mainland, they are also positive about local trips. We thought it was a perfect blue ocean with fewer competitors and a great potential for growth.”
The taste is also slightly different. According to Lim, while Chinese love gigantic, artificial cultures, Taiwanese and Hong Kong people prefer nature-friendly, simple tourist spots. Also, unlike Chinese consumers preferring high-priced products, Taiwanese and Hong Kong people buys low-prices products without hesitation.
Currently, Creatrip introduces 31 cities for their tourist attractions and 2,000 restaurants, all in Chinese. The total number of members is 40,000, and the number of visitors per day is 20,000. Last October, it opened a 7-room guesthouse near Sinchon. All the guesthouse staff members are local crew members.
Profit is also good. Along with the operating cost for the guesthouse, Creatrip gets a booking agency commission from bringing tourists to the restaurants introduced in the app.
“I’d rather be a CEO making money than an employee receiving money.”
At first glance, Lee might seem as the ‘master of travel’. However, she does not have much of traveling experience. She is closer to a hard-living steady young lady than a free soul. Graduating from a foreign language high school and a famous university in Seoul, she entered a well-known, large foreign company and joined the SCM team.
“It was so hard to stare at the computer monitor and look into the numbers on the screen all day. The hierarchical meeting system, where I always have to answer ‘Yes’ unconditionally, was also frustrating. I realized I am more attracted to management than accounting. It was much more interesting doing business projects when I was in college.”
She finally quit her job. Then, she was introduced to a part-time job called ‘Working for Chinese tourists’. However, unlike the job description, she had to sell red ginseng to Chinese tourists. She felt uncomfortable selling an unknown brand at a such high price to the tourists, and thought that customized tour programs were needed for the tourists.
She quit her job after three days, and set up a tour to Korea by herself. She picked Sokcho for the destination as it is an unfamiliar place for foreigners. Her Chinese friends raised two thumbs for the unique attractions such as the beaches of Sokcho, Mt. Soraksan, and the central market. Creatrip was born just like that.
Currently, a total of 10 employees, including part-timers, work at the Creatrip. More than half of them are from China or Taiwan. They are mainly in charge of translating or presenting information on local culture. For example, they deliver small messages such as ‘Taiwanese people eat brown sugar candy once a month’, ‘They are angry about buying or selling puppies’.
“But there certainly are cultural differences, and with tens of thousands of customers, there are so many unexpected problems. Occasionally, guests for guesthouse post bad comments through SNS out of malice. Also, they may comment on the drinks by the recommended café, claiming that they are horrible.”
The next theme that Creatrip is preparing is “beach.” Creatrip plans to provide detailed tips on using public transportation and facilities from a foreigner’s perspective.
She says she is sticking to the start-up business because of her values despite her objectively high quality resume that can get her any job.
“I want to be involved in directly circulating money rather than simply receiving money. It’s my dream to become a businesswoman that has created a platform that changes the traveling culture and the platform itself can make money.”