Despite the influx of Chinese tourists, small shops and restaurants in Korea often fail to cater services to travelers due mainly to budget constraints. Below-par services have disappointed many Chinese visitors, curbing their plans to visit the country again.
Born and raised on the southern resort island of Jejudo, Lee Min-seok, cofounder and general director of mobile travel application start-up TNDN, wanted to break what he called an “endless vicious circle” in the Korean tourism industry.
“Many small shop owners or merchants, struggling to lead their small businesses, often don’t recognize the potential of tourism businesses targeting Chinese visitors,” manager Lee said.
“Simply put, they are missing a chance to get windfall gains.”
TNDN general director Lee joined forces with cofounder Kim Yeon-woo, his military service buddy, to launch the trial service of their mobile travel app, also called TNDN, in September. The TNDN cofounders were later joined by others they met at start-up conferences and through other occasions.
TNDN, when pronounced in Chinese, means petite and sweet, while the name also stands for “Travel ‘N’ Dining.”
Jejudo Island, which almost 10 million Chinese tourists visit every year, was the ideal place for Lee to start a project to iron out some thorny issues in the domestic tourism industry and realize his dream to show outsiders the ins and outs of his homeland, boasting picturesque views of coastlines and natural habitats.
Different from other travel packages or programs filled with tightly scheduled sightseeing tours, the app offers information on tasteful local dishes and must-visit restaurants, which even appeal to locals.
Every service on the mobile travel app, including a map and a forthcoming taxi hailer, is offered in Chinese.
|Lee Min-seok (left), co-founder and general director of mobile travel application start-up TNDN. (Kakao)|
The Korean start-up made its app compatible with AliPay and WeChat Pay, two of the most-used mobile payment services among Chinese smartphone users, since Chinese tourists are often used to mobile payment due largely to the booming information technology industry and the fast-growing smartphone penetration in China in the recent years.
The app also allows tourists to not only order in, but also pay for foods on the spot.
The number of local restaurants and shops in partnership with TNDN currently stands at 300 and will increase down the road, according to the firm.
At a recent start-up demo day held in Shanghai this month, the Korean firm took the top spot among 14 Korean start-ups, and received positive response from Chinese start-up accelerators and investors, including Innospace and other participants.
The app currently generates revenues, still moderate, through providing tourist information in Chinese to public organizations, and plans to sell ads to restaurants and tourist agencies. Lee said his start-up troupe would also launch online and off-line commerce businesses in the future.
Manager Lee said all those achievements in such a short period, around four months, were possible with the help of mobile messenger operator Kakao’s support programs at the firm’s Jeju Center for Creative Economy and Innovation, one of 17 such centers set up across the nation.
The Korean start-up was one of 11 start-ups that have participated in the programs run by the mobile messenger firm since June.
After struggling to find ways to transform their ideas into real businesses, the company was able to do so thanks to the support of Kakao.
“We have received different kinds of support, including consulting, investment, as well as office spaces, from Kakao,” the manager said.
TNDN is currently in talks with global investors to receive funding and will launch its travel app services in China earlier next year.
Kakao is also supporting Korean start-ups wishing to tap into the East Asian region by linking them with local investors and helping them to tailor their services for local customers.