Hanim has been involved in and gained deep understanding of various aspects of the travel and tourism industry, both in Malaysia and internationally for more than 12 years.

Professionally, Hanim mainly specializes in online marketing, product development and content creation as well as other components in the overall marketing and communications field. Hanim has enjoyed quite a number of successes in creating and enhancing the performances of tourism products, generating publicity and increasing yield, identifying new revenue channels and markets, increasing traffic through sustainable and organic approaches and building substantial customer database through creative resources and methods in the travel and tourism industry as well as advocating personalization of content to yield better marketing results.

Hanim has taken her years of experience in stride and aspire to build and develop dLoop as a sustainable and socially conscious online travel marketplace that creates opportunities for the locals and their communities to play an important role in defining Malaysia as a unique and authentic experiential travel destination.

Hanim speaks to the Asian Entrepreneur today about her work at dLoop and her thoughts on the industry and entrepreneurship generally.

Tell us about dLoop.

If you’ve ever travelled to a foreign destination for the very first time, whether it’s for business or pleasure, I’m quite sure you’d have had, at one point, asked the question, ‘What can I do?’ or ‘What to do?’ Browsing through pages upon pages of websites searching for the answers to those questions can be quite frustrating. Especially when you end up with the same boring,standard packages that is hardly exciting for seasoned travellers such as yourself.

So, we thought wouldn’t it be awesome if we can answer those questions for you? And at the same time, present to you these amazing authentic and unique experiences from the people who are passionate about sharing them, the locals themselves.

d’Loop makes it easy for almost everyone and anyone to share their passion and interest with those who seek unique experiences during their travel. Local experts who meet our criteria and requirements can sign-up online to become ‘dLoop Host’. Our main objective is to build and develop a trusted community marketplace for the best life and travel experiences in Malaysia and around Asia, eventually. The portal allows people to list, discover, and book unique life and travel experiences and accommodations around the region — online or from a mobile phone.

It creates dLoop (the loop) that connects consumers and local experts or hosts through the sharing of unique travel and life experiences. We take on the role of being the leading enabler for travellers to be able to design their own personalized and customized life and travel experiences by sharing their likes, dislikes, interests and intentions with us.

At the other end of the spectrum, I’m looking forward to see more locals become more entrepreneurial and be able to generate good income doing what they know best and love. This is our contribution to help develop awesome and more importantly, sustainable and profitable travel products at the ground level.

We have plans to work with selected agencies and offer a professional qualification course in entrepreneurship to the locals who are interested in joining us as hosts but do not yet possess the required language or communication skills. We are also looking into kick starting our B2B project of locating and connecting small scale tour and activity suppliers or providers in the country and empowering them to offer their services and products to the global market through dLoop’s easy and friendly online user interface.

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How did all this come about?

The birth of dLoop was accidental and it came about through my participation in MAD Incubator’s 3 months programme for wannabe entrepreneurs, Idea Acceleration Programme(IAP). Fresh from more than 15 years working in the corporate world, I was ready for a ‘reboot’ of some sort and joined the programme with the intention of learning more about entrepreneurship and to decide if it was something that I can pursue, or even want to pursue. At the end of the programme, each of us was required to come up with an idea to pitch and I came up with dLoop. At its birth, the idea for dLoop was to help freelance tour guides to design and offer their own tour packages directly to the travellers. We have gone through a number of pivots and now, dLoop is more focused on working directly with the locals themselves. We welcome anybody who is able to meet our criteria of offering authentic and unique local experiences to our worldwide audience.

What was the initial feedback for dLoop?

dLoop has been well received from the very start especially within Malaysia’s entrepreneurs community. Without their initial enthusiasm and support, I’d probably have given up at the very start. And what has been more motivating is the positive response I’ve received from the locals themselves and those directly involved in the country’s travel and tourism industry. I believe that the time is right and ripe to develop and promote innovative travel products and dLoop looks forward to be a frontrunner.

And how did you market the site?

Our marketing effort has been mainly focused on social networking sites and our portal itself. Since the tourism industry is mainly a service industry, the main objective of our marketing activity is to build credibility and trust. We strive to be transparent and straightforward in how we communicate to potential travellers and hosts. On our blog, you can see travel articles written by myself as the founder and my co-founder, Faith Wong. More often than not, we try to be as honest and as opinionated as we can about our experiences. It’s pretty much what you see is what you get.

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Have you guys faced any obstacles so far?

Every single day is a struggle for us because building credibility and trust is much harder than just buying an ad space online or getting an ad on TV. The modern travellers can sniff insincerity a mile away and they are not appreciative of push marketing. So, it’s a tough job building a credible content-rich portal that could entice, pull them in and eventually become our early adopters. Educating the locals about dLoop and what it can do for them is another major headache. The concept is relatively new in Malaysia whereby the travel and tourism industry is populated by retail-based players, large organizations and government agencies. The idea of a fisherman, living in a small fishing village hundreds of miles away from the tourists’ horde, having any kind of contact with foreign travellers and actually offering them an authentic and local experience that cannot be replicated elsewhere can perceived to be rather preposterous.

Having an awesome team of people is the key ingredient to solving these problems! I am really fortunate that I have extremely supportive groups of people from the entrepreneur community that provide guidance, advice and mentorship without asking for anything in return. Challenges come and go and there is always some problems to solve or issues to handle. But what’s more important is a support system that comes to my aide when I’m on ‘life support’ and that had happened quite a number of times!

So how is this industry like in Malaysia?

According to Visa Global Travel Intentions Survey 2013, outlook for travel is optimistic with travel and budget set to increase. Emerging markets such as Saudi Arabia, China and Brazil are likely to fuel this exciting growth. The intention to travel is high. And with the increased willingness to spend, budget is less of a concern in deciding where to go. The biggest growth in budgets is expected to come from the current low-spending travellers’ from Hong Kong, UK and Thailand.

So what does this mean for the industry in Malaysia? There is so much to do! The travel and tourism industry in Malaysia is still in its growing stage and there is so much to learn for all the players involved. Yes, the numbers of arrivals are increasing year after year but what is more crucial is to increase the number of high income travellers or tourists and how much they spend per person for every single trip they take. Thailand, for example, received less number of tourists in 2012, but the expenditure per person is much higher. Possible reasons? Tourists are staying longer and participate in more activities. Malaysia has an amazing wealth of resources in terms of travel products but they have to move on from being the standard tour packages that can be quite superficial in terms of value to more high impact, authentic and unique local experiences.

Customization and personalization are also becoming more of an expectation rather than exception.

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How do you guys stay competitive?

It’s all about going to the ground level and finding out the needs and requirements of our stakeholders; the travellers and the locals. It’s also about being informed of the latest trend in the industry and being able to be a couple of steps ahead which is not always easy. The travel and tourism industry is complicated. It is a service industry and it is a people-centric industry. We also pretty much try to stay relevant by listening to the ‘noise’ and make attempts to decipher and make sense of what we are hearing.

Would you do anything differently, if you had a second chance?

If I had known it’s going to be this tough, I would have paid more attention to my physical health! Seriously, the whole journey has been quite draining on me physically. I didn’t really realize just how much I have to sacrifice in terms of time and energy. Late nights, weekend meetups, endless writing and tons of paperwork are pretty gruelling. And lately, I’m seeing white hairs. I wouldn’t change anything even if I was given a second chance.

What are your future plans for dLoop?

We are looking at positioning dLoop as a social enterprise. While our business model focuses on building a sustainable and profitable enterprise, we are looking forward to our small yet significant contribution in enhancing the livelihood of the locals who would directly benefit from their association with dLoop. We are also looking at helping the local experts improve their entrepreneurship prowess through exposure to the competitive global market.

We would also focus heavily on user generated content through our blog and forum that encourage the sharing of travel experiences, images and videos. Travellers will be able to access our original content during their search phase and no longer would phase the challenge of figuring out what to do when they reach their destination. dLoop would also adopt what we call ‘verified travel’ approach to ensure that the travel experiences we offer are genuine and unique.No more guessing games or disappointment for the travellers.

A more extensive and exhaustive market validation exercise is also in the pipeline to look at the B2B component. We plan to build an exhaustive inventory of tour and activities operators in Malaysia and create a backend platform that would connect them. This would allow small travel-focused businesses in the country to reach out and offer their services and products to a larger global audience easier, faster and more efficiently.

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What innovation can we expect from dLoop?

dLoop is not just about innovation but we are keen on innovating the way people plan their travel. What we are excited about is exploring predicative personalization as we continue to expand our business in the near future. What is predicative personalization? What it does or should be able to do is to predict what the travellers want without having to ask them. No input is required from the travellers. What it does is to look at their Facebook data and what others with similar background or interest are doing, reading or purchasing online. We would look at how a mobile app and the power of the social graph can be leveraged to provide customization. We want to be the local frontrunner in revolutionizing trip planning through the utilization of semantic technology. We want to be able to fully understand how a person plans his trip from its purpose, personal interests of other people in the travel group and how each component fit together throughout the entire journey.

We are also working on developing a mobile app that would truly be a traveller’s best friend during the planning, the travelling itself and after they have completed their journey. It’s not just about being able to book experiences, accommodation etc, it would also be able to connect them with the locals as they travel through Malaysia, receive and offer assistance to other travellers and share images, videos and reviews
seamlessly.

What are some important lessons you’ve learnt that you could share with our readers?

Build a strong support system even before you start on the first sentence of your business model! I can’t emphasis enough on this crucial part of your entrepreneurial journey. And don’t just surround yourselves with people who say ‘yes’ to everything. Be prepared to hear the negative reviews or comments and take them all in your stride. At the end of the day, you need to develop the thickest skin you can. And get some cotton balls as well because there will be times when you just need to shut off the ‘noise’ that can mutilate any good intentions you had.

Above all that is to have fun! That has kept sane till now. Just have fun and be happy with every single step forward that you take. Take small steps and prepare to leap and jump at a moment’s notice. It’s just uphill and downhill loops from day One!

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Connect with Hanim Shukor and dLoop today:
Twitter: https://twitter.com/dloopexperience
Linkedin: http://www.linkedin.com/company/dloop
Instagram: http://instagram.com/dlooptravel
Email: [email protected]
Website: http://dloop.com.my/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/dloop.com.my?fref=ts