I’ve been reading articles from the Wildventure blog for some time now. When I saw the Travlocals platform was launched, I knew it would have a special place in my browser’s bookmarks list for a long time. 🙂
Romania is a great destination if we think of adventure and sustainable tourism. Unfortunately, if you look for authentic experiences, they were not easy to spot until not so long ago. In my perspective, most of the local accommodations were targeting mass tourism, the services were not great, and there was a lack of authenticity.
Through his two projects, Radu Fusea brought Romanian traditions, rural and sustainable tourism into the spotlight. So if you are looking to find one of a kind accommodation and best experiences in Romania, you should check out the two platforms he launched: Wildventure blog and Travlocals booking platform.
I am so happy to bring you today an interview with Radu. He was so kind as to share his story with us. I am sure that you will enjoy it:
“A.L.: Hi, Radu! I admit that I am a fan of the two projects you developed, Wildventure and Travlocals! 🙂 First of all, how were they born, and what is their purpose?
R. F.: Hi, Ana! Thank you for the opportunity to present the history and future of my projects to your audience!
Wildventure was born from a need that I identified three years ago. I saw at the news, or in the online environment various gorgeous accommodations. Then when I wanted to book, I couldn’t find them anymore. I searched for days through tens of thousands of listings, and they were untraceable. That was because many of them do not identify at all with volume-focused businesses. So I decided to centralize all these accommodations and unique experiences in a blog. At that time, I did not know if the demand is big enough for a large-scale project such as the Travlocals booking platform.
Things went well, and the community around Wildventure Romania grew explosively and organically. At that time, you could develop without much investment, which is now almost impossible.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that we needed to take the next step. That is to build a booking platform through which tourists can book these spectacular experiences and accommodations with no additional fee. At the same time, I had to find a way to monetize the activity to develop further.
At present, Travlocals is the most modern Romanian booking platform. I believe that we have built around it the best tourist community.
AL: You launched the Travlocals booking platform at the end of 2019. What were the biggest challenges that you had to overcome to bring this project to life?
R.F.: Even though I launched the platform at the end of 2019, I encountered the most significant challenges before the launch. There were times when I thought there was no light at the end of the tunnel. It was either because of incomplete technical solutions, correlated with the Romanian legislation, or the lack of funding. Also, I confess that it was challenging to gather the first dozen subscribers to launch the platform.
It happened even if we had unconditionally supported 150 hosts for over two years. People thought it would be just another platform that will fail in a few months, and no one dared to invest.
We had already demonstrated that we are a serious project. We had invested in it many tens of thousands of euros, we had all the contacts we needed, and still, we barely managed to launch.
Just as in sports, victories bring victories, so people slowly started to trust the project, and things began to move. Later came the pandemic, which in the first phase, cut off all fundings.
Nevertheless, we continued to invest heavily in marketing and P.R. to offer maximum performance to partners who had already subscribed. I never put my benefit above the benefit of our partners. As proof, I am in my 3rd year of unpaid work, during which I invested all my funds in this project, and they were not few.
I realized that this is the only way to succeed in a market that is perhaps too afraid of past failures. I entered a road with no return, in which my only option was to move forward. The recklessness that sometimes characterizes me, made me not to give up. Currently, investments exceed 150k Euro, less than a third coming from European funds, and the rest from my funds. Nobody offered me any guarantee that I will ever get this investment back, but I consider that in business, there are no guarantees. First, you invest and work hard. Then you see if your projections were correct or you wasted your time.
AL: Please tell us a few words about yourself and your team.
R.F.: My name is Radu Fusea, and I am the founder of the two projects. I am a design engineer, but I spent only three years in this area, working within a corporation. I quickly realized that I didn’t belong there. So, I decided to devote myself to entrepreneurship, an area that I had already experienced in college. I have had various companies and projects, both offline and online, up to my recently celebrated 30th anniversary.
AL: Customers make reservations on the platform without any additional commission. How do you monetize this project in the long term?
R.F.: All reservations made through the Travlocals platform are non-commissioned. We offer total flexibility to any communication between the client and the host. Also, the booking process is very adjustable, each host establishing their advance payments/cancellation policy.
We wanted to create a platform where each partner can find the optimal solution for his business, without tourists having to pay extra fees for reservations. Monetization comes from the fact that partners pay monthly subscriptions to benefit from our services. I am not saying that I launched the perfect platform, but I consider that I did my best with the available funds. We are currently gathering feedback from both customers and partners for the next major upgrade.
AL: Who are Travlocals customers? Are the experiences more attractive for foreign tourists or Romanian ones?
R.F.: Most of the Travlocals clients are educated tourists from Romania, with above-average incomes, who travel often and want complete experiences, not just accommodation. Basically, through marketing and P.R. efforts, I targeted all the business and lifestyle communities in Romania.
We have never promoted ourselves through low prices or special discounted offers, but through quality, authenticity, and uniqueness.
Thus, we ended up having reservations of over 3600 Euro per booking. At present, we have over 5000 reservations and requests. Also, various personalities, whom we cannot reveal the identity, are using our services.
Even if the initial plan focused on foreign tourists, we had to put this idea on hold because of the pandemic. As soon as things return to normal, we will target this audience as well. Still, to my surprise, I saw quite a few reservations from foreign tourists, mostly from the UK, Germany, Italy, and Serbia.
A.L.: What is the trend that you have noticed in the context of COVID-19? How has it affected traffic, bookings, and partnerships on the platform?
R.F.: COVID-19 has created a favorable context for our business. We remained the only booking platform that continued to invest in marketing. The international giants cut off especially this type of expense in crises. Being the only booking platform focused on experiences, we suddenly had this massive flow of tourists who used to travel abroad and now cannot do it.
Thus, the demand was suddenly much higher than the supply. This translated into excellent performances for most of our partners, but also in many refused requests because of lack of availability.
A.L.: What are the most important three criteria for selecting the experiences and accommodations promoted on the platform?
R.F.: I have not been able to define a template so far. I believe that there isn’t a pattern that can frame all the experiences we promote. Here are some criteria though:
- Authenticity: we are looking for traditional or aristocrat’s houses, authentic, restored castles, or mansions. Also, we look to see if the hosts made improvements so that they serve the needs of a modern lifestyle;
- Quality of services: we check the online reviews because often some beautiful photos can hide poor quality services;
- Host ethics: we were often disappointed by the behavior of some of the hosts who seemed to be taken out of the proverb “the wolf changes his hair, but never his temperament” (Romanian saying). We’re trying to avoid as much as possible such people having a speculative attitude. We know how dedicated we are, and we do not want to promote such businesses.
A.L.: How do you think sustainable and rural tourism will evolve in Romania in 2021?
R.F.: Sustainable tourism will continue to grow regardless of whether the pandemic will remain for a long time or disappear. However, we need education and patience, both at the level of clients and hosts. Things do not change overnight, especially in a segment that has been frozen for more than 25 years. We must all be aware that we have something to learn from each other and that we need to support each other to grow together.
A.L.: What are your plans for the future of the Travlocals business? In which direction do you want to develop further?
R.F.: At the end of this year, we will sell shares to a business angel, and we will make a massive upgrade, through the investment at least equal to the one we made so far. Thus, we will be able to offer better services both to our partners and to their customers.
At the same time, premium international brands contacted us and expressed their interest in becoming our official partners. Our evolution is fulminant in this project. We are receiving new collaboration proposals on various segments each week. In the medium term, we want to internationalize the project, covering the South-Eastern European market in the first phase. This market is very similar to the Romanian one.”
Through Radu’s story, I could recognize all the necessary qualities an entrepreneur needs to have in order to succeed: perseverance, grit, dedication, courage, and that dose of recklessness that makes us take the step and follow our dreams.
Radu, thank you for your time and for sharing your vision with us. You bring great value to Romanian tourism through what you created.
My dear friends, if you plan to visit Romania soon and wish to experience our authentic traditions, high-quality services, and unique experiences, make sure you check the Travlocals booking platform. ✌️