An insight into Khiri’s experience creation process and how we keep things fresh!
Over the last decade or so there has been a shift in the DMC space. Whilst DMCs have always been relied on for their local expertise and knowledge, the industry has been disrupted first by small local suppliers or individuals offering genuinely local experiences (such as private walking tours, cooking classes, photography workshops, homestays and so on), and then by online marketplaces collating and curating such experiences.
Some DMCs were caught napping and were too late to get onboard the local experiences wave (it’s noticeable that, of the DMCs in our region that didn’t survive COVID, many were of the old-school/generic variety); some added such experiences to their existing product range; a select few (like Khiri) had been offering such products from the start.
But how do we keep our product range fresh, authentic and unique? How have we been able to continue to offer a diverse and original range of products to our customers for the last 30 years? Here’s a look at the thought process and creativity that goes into creating a new Khiri experience!
The first stage in launching a new experience involves discovery and awareness. New tours don’t just appear out of thin air – they’re the result of us listening to our team members, clients, suppliers and friends; keeping up to date with industry news; scouring social media; or simply just keeping our ears to the ground locally.
Many of our experiences begin when someone on the Khiri team happens upon something interesting whilst out enjoying their local destination. Maybe they discover a new walking route; maybe they find a little-known temple or market as yet undiscovered by the tourism industry; maybe they meet someone who is an expert in food, architecture, history, or photography and is able and willing to share their knowledge; or maybe their own family is involved in some activity that would of interest to tourists – our Rice Wine Trek in Vang Vieng for example is hosted by the family of one of our Laos sales team!
We’re very active in finding things to do in our destinations. In established destinations – Bangkok or Siem Reap for example – we’re always asking our staff and partners “What’s new? What’s different?” And we also ask our suppliers to get creative. Yes, we can send our clients to a particular restaurant, or museum, or temple, but if we ask, maybe they can offer something special – behind the scenes access, a cooking class, a meeting with a monk, a private tour.
Once we’ve discovered a potential new experience, the next step is to do a bit of research and establish if it can be developed into a Khiri product. Is it feasible from an operational perspective? Do the locals want tourists there? Does it fit into an existing experience or module, or is it a standalone product? Do our guides have the knowledge to run it? Do we have to book it via a third party, or do we have to arrange everything ourselves?
We also do some research to see how original or unique it is. If it’s already busy with tourists that doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll drop it; it just means we’ll try and find a new angle, or arrange visits for quieter times of day. On the other hand, if none of our competitors are selling it and if not one single tourist has ever gone there, that doesn’t automatically mean we’ve hit on something unique and original – it may just be that it simply isn’t very interesting in the first place.
Once we’re satisfied that we’re looking at an attractive, original and feasible new product, we move into the next VERY important stage…
…which is to decide if this product is suitable for Khiri, and what work will need to be done to tweak the product for different demographics. Our biggest question is always, does it fit with our sustainable ethos? This is a huge topic in itself but to summarise, as long as an experience does not damage or disrupt the local community or environment, and if we can help support local people by selling it, then it’s a yes. If not, we drop it.
We also need to establish if the product is suitable for our client base. We may absolutely love a particular experience but if it’s very expensive, in a location only accessible to super-fit travellers, or requires a 4am start, we need to think carefully about who we sell it to, and whether it can be tweaked to make it more accessible to everyone. For example, Sigiriya in Sri Lanka is probably the country’s most iconic site, but not everyone wants to get up at 5am and climb over 1200 steps to get to the top, so we’ve created a range of alternatives for less active travellers. And of course the best place to photograph sunrise over Sigiriya is not necessarily from the top of it!
The final step before we launch a new product is to try it out ourselves, which is of course the fun part! It’s really important for us to get feedback on a new experience before we put it in front of our clients, so we always test it on our team members, friends, agents on fam trips, and of course our intrepid Quality Control Manager Koen.
The testing part is less about saying yes or no to an experience; it’s more about checking how it works in practice and finding out if there’s anything we need to improve or change, as sometimes we spot something that we hadn’t previously considered. For example, whilst checking our Saigon Unseen tour recently, we learned that our usual breakfast place – a pho shop – was closed on Wednesdays, so had to substitute it with a hu tieu restaurant instead, at which point it occurred to us that whilst most of our clients will try pho at least once during their Vietnam tour, they’re less likely to try hu tieu, so let’s include that instead.
Testing doesn’t just happen when we launch a product – it’s an ongoing process and we’re constantly looking at feedback from our clients, guides and team members to help us continually tweak our experiences and take a kaizen approach to product development.
So this is how we create the range of experiences that has made us one of Asia’s longest established and most creative DMCs. Anyone can sell you a hotel or a transfer; not everyone can get you a session with a renowned Thai sak yant tattoo master, arrange a homestay with the Belaraghi tribe on the island of Flores, or fix you up with a private family dinner in Galle, and these days that’s the kind of thing your clients will be looking for – so you need a creative DMC partner who can help you provide it!
Tim Russell joined the Khiri Core team in 2022, bringing decades of experience in the tourism industry into his role as Group Marketing Manager. Before moving to Bangkok in 2012 – where he now lives with his wife and their three rescue dogs – Tim spent almost ten years in Vietnam. When he is not overseeing Khiri’s marketing efforts, Tim can be found indulging in his passions for photography, live music, and street food.