Business

My Business Asia: Touring Taiwan

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Media captionYen Tseng: "The greatest reward isn’t in the money, but is in the relationship building between the travellers and us"

What makes an entrepreneur? The BBC's Cindy Sui hears from Yen Tseng, a Taiwanese Canadian who, with his elder brother, founded a travel business called iBeengo. It takes tourists off the beaten track and helps them experience Taiwan the local way.

Yen Tseng got the idea to start a travel business about a year ago because he loved to travel. He was born in Taiwan and attended middle school there, but went to Canada for his early, secondary and university education. By the age of 25, he had travelled to 25 countries.

Starting out

But starting this business in Taiwan wasn't an easy decision for him and his brother Ronnie, 30. Both are highly educated and their family had expectations of them. "The biggest risk is still the fact that we didn't take the nine-to-five job and we didn't take a stable salary."

Image caption Taking inspiration from their experience in Europe, iBeengo conducts walking tours of Taiwan

Initially, Yen and his brother wanted to help people take the pain out of travelling - so with a loan of one million New Taiwan dollars ($34,000; £21,000) from their parents, they created iBeengo in September 2012. It allows travellers to pick and choose the itinerary they want and create custom-made tours.

Most of their clients are Chinese independent student travellers curious about Taiwan who see visiting the island as a lifelong dream. Many are women because they like to get out there and explore, but also want the safety of being in a tour with a local guide, Yen says.

On the road

What makes iBeengo's tours different from those of big travel agencies is that they allow travellers to sleep in if they want, skip parts of the tour and rejoin the group later, take their time at each location, and request locations off the itinerary.

"People don't actually like bus tours. Bus tours are like food on a flight, there's no choice. What we do is buffet style; you come here, pick out what you want, and go at the pace you like," said Yen.

Some of the places iBeengo takes tourists to are popular scenic attractions, and they also offer free walking tours for interested tourists.

Wearing their eye-catching bright green iBeengo t-shirts, Yen, his brother, and college-student volunteers point out locally known trivia, such as the stall that sells the best Taiwanese fried chicken patty at a night market, the locations where popular Taiwanese films were shot, or the childhood hangout of a Taiwanese pop singer.

In its first year, iBeengo has taken 400 tourists around Taiwan. Yen says they try to keep their average tour size to fewer than 15 people and aim for an ideal ratio of one tour guide to five tourists, much less than the traditional ratio of one guide to 30 travellers.

On a budget

What makes starting up a business relatively low cost for Yen is that he and Ronnie hooked up with a start-up incubator which rents office space to young companies cheaply. They pay only NT$3,000 per person per month.

Image caption Trying local delicacies in Taiwan's markets is another way to experience the destination

Advertising in person also helps them cut costs. They fly to China to drop off brochures at universities and advertise on Chinese websites to reach out to their target customers - young Chinese people.

IBeengo for the moment is mainly a travel exchange programme for students, but the brothers are hoping to raise the US$200,000 (£125,000) to register their company as a fully functioning tourism business for all.

In the future the brothers plan to operate tours around Japan and further afield. But for now, they are enjoying helping tourists from mainland China - Taiwan's former rivals during the war decades ago - get to know the island and see not only its scenic beauty but unique character.

"Just the fact that our customers are going home and telling their friends about us and their friends are coming to us asking us to organise tours for them, that gives us a lot of satisfaction," Yen said.

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