Duara's business has a powerful social dimension.


Summer of Startups: Live like a local

Are you looking for a truly authentic travel experience? Would you like to experience something other than a traditional package holiday?

Newly fledged entrepreneurs Johanna Vierros, Elina Voipio, Annika Järvelin and Juho Toivonen are turning over a fresh new leaf for the travel industry. In October 2015, the foursome founded Duara Travels, a service that sets out to connect travellers more closely with the local communities they visit in developing nations like Africa, Asia and Latin America.

“We want to offer people a more meaningful travel experience and a chance to experience their destination country in more depth. When you travel with us, you will have the opportunity to learn about the local culture and the local way of life and also see the benefits of your visit, as your money stays with the local people and does not end up lining the pockets of large international tourism chains. This helps to broaden the worldview of not just the visitors but their host families too,” Voipio says, introducing the Duara Travels concept.

It appears that people these days have a ”been there, done that” attitude to more traditional forms of tourism and are looking for fresh new experiences. The demand for a service like Duara certainly exists.

“We are confident that there are plenty of travellers out there looking for what we are offering,” Vierros says.

The team have piloted their service in Tanzania, where 15 visitors have so far stayed with local host families. The feedback was generally supportive but some visitors also offered criticisms.

“Some people didn’t appreciate being woken up by the rooster or hearing the sound of children playing early in the morning. Our Finnish guests also didn’t always cope well with the lack of privacy they experienced. We need to make sure that we communicate these things to our customers clearly to manage their expectations,” Voipio says, and adds that part of the appeal of travel is being able to go beyond your own comfort zone.

Soon, travellers will be able to choose between Tanzania and Sri Lanka. The company’s aim is to add one additional destination country in Southeast Asia and one in Latin America during year 2016.

Duara Travels was selected from among one hundred other applicants to attend the Summer of Startups programme, where the team will take part in intensive sparring and coaching sessions designed to help them develop their business concept further.

“We look forward to getting some expert advice on growth and marketing. Our aim is to break into the European market in the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden and UK after the summer. We want to move beyond Finland,” Voipio says of their plans for the future.

“Another item on our agenda is making our IT system slicker. In future, we want bookings to be sorted out between our host villages and the travellers, without Duara acting as a middle man.”

The team are grateful that they get to be part of the Helsinki startup community.

“The atmosphere and camaraderie at the Startup Sauna are second to none. Everyone shares their successes and failures,” Vierros says.

Calling all intrepid, adventurous travellers keen to try sometime completely new

“Travelling with us is an all-encompassing experience, as you will be staying with a host family. The value of the experience lies precisely in this opportunity to participate in their day-to-day lives. Although that should not be taken to mean that the visitors are placed under any sort of obligation,” Vierros explains.

The Duara model is not necessarily the best one for those simply looking for a roof over their heads.

“This is perhaps not the easiest way to travel. At Duara, we provide the framework but it’s up to the travellers to generate the content. There is no right answer and no fool-proof recipe,” Vierros points out.

To stay with a local family, you will need to be intrepid, adventurous and have a determination to plunge yourself into something completely new.

“This is an incredibly independent form of travel.”

At the moment, you can book a stay for anything from two days upwards. The customers will determine how the service will evolve in the future.

The Duara business has a powerful social dimension as the company’s core vision is to help improve living standards for the village communities they work with. Determining the right price for the service is not an easy task, as the business has to operate fairly and offer a good deal for the families involved.

“One of the big challenges we are dealing with is the financial aspect, as the idea is for Duara to generate an income for the participating families without prompting envy in their wider community,” Vierros says.

In Tanzania, visitors can expect to pay EUR 25–35 per night, while Sri Lanka will be slightly pricier.

The Duara founders’ talk is peppered with words like ”village” and ”community”.

“Each family circle is made up of between three and ten families, who form their own small community. The idea is that each of these families will take their turn hosting the visitors. We will also encourage their neighbours to get involved. A total of 15% of the cost of the stay will be placed in a community account, which is designed to foster broader support and ownership of this,” Voipio explains.

Each family will have a member who speaks basic English and a Duara contact person is always on hand for emergencies. Visitors will not need to learn the native language of their destination country – English, with a smattering of body language and some hand gestures should suffice.

“In my experience, Pig Latin is always a good option, too,” Voipio says with laugh.

Turning travel on its head

Family stays, where you have the chance to experience local life up close and personal, are well-suited for all types of travellers, and Duara’s founders do not wish to place unnecessary limitations on their target audience. Families, couples and groups of friends can all enjoy this form of travel.

Duara wants to revolutionise the tourism industry and especially people’s perceptions of travel.

“It’s OK to be a bit nosey and curious, to want to scratch beyond the surface,” Vierros says.

The team know of one other similar business, based in the Netherlands. For the foursome, this is purely a positive thing. Good ideas deserve exposure.

Read more: www.duaratravels.com