WOOSTER, Ohio – “To travel is to live,” once wrote the great Danish author Hans Christian Andersen, but those who are single may feel hesitant to fulfill that natural yearning, often afraid to vacation alone to unfamiliar areas and unable or unwilling to pay the exorbitant fees a booking or tour agency might charge. A forthcoming app, developed by recent College of Wooster graduates Chuc-Anh “Nora” Nguyen and Phuong “Claire” Vu, serves up a solution to that niche market.
SoLoCo – a fun word play on traveling solo and local – is the brainchild of Nguyen and Vu and is starting to gain traction, having won two video pitch contests, including $1,500 in a growing international competition, launched by the University of Pécs (Hungary) and Ohio University in 2013.
The idea, originally conceived for an assignment in a Wooster marketing class, was directly influenced by Vu’s personal experiences last summer when she traveled by herself in New York and South Carolina. “I was open to locals who I met along the way … I felt that was a good chance to know about the city and the good spots within the city. After that, my experience was totally different than other experiences I had traveling,” she explained.
After the class ended, Nguyen, a psychology major, and Vu, a business economics major, continued to advance their concept and now have a well thought-out vision for SoLoCo. In summary, the app will quickly match and connect solo travelers with local people, who will work as tour guides that give authentic, personal, and customized trips at an affordable price. The traveler will fill out a survey of their preferences, then is matched with a local who is passionate and knowledgeable about their city and has gone through a training process. Before the trip, the traveler and local will communicate a plan for the trip.
The app is still in the developmental stage, with the duo having made some simple mockups at this point. They’re seeking out additional financial resources, possibly through more pitch competitions, investors, or crowdfunding sources. Then, they plan to work with a professional app developer to create a demo version and raise further awareness via a marketing campaign.
Nguyen and Vu admit they’re facing some big competition, such as Airbnb and TripAdvisor introducing similar services, but they are confident their app will offer affordability and customization. “We’re differentiating ourselves from those competitors with a really affordable way to explore a neighborhood in a very personal way,” said Vu. “It’s a really strong individualized kind of traveling … users will have different experiences and memories.”
They’re also hopeful the app can tap into a couple of primary market segments. “Baby boomers who frequently use technology when they’re traveling … prefer the authenticity of local people, instead of going with big tour agencies, which usually have rigid tour schedules. (And), millennials are more likely to have dietary restrictions, travel by bike instead of car … so we found that younger travelers prefer that outgoing and adventurous experience,” explained Nguyen.
Just casual acquaintances before this project, Nguyen and Vu are both originally from Hanoi, Vietnam, and while they’re currently seeking full-time employment in the United States, they intend to launch SoLoCo in their hometown, which could be beneficial in building a customer base, and then branch out to other counties in Asia.
While they don’t envision working on the app full-time, they’re entrepreneurial spirit has grown throughout this process as they’re excited and optimistic to see SoLoCo become a real product, and a successful one at that. “We’re still polishing the business idea … and really want to focus on the niche market segment to address that problem and serve this particular customer,” said Nguyen. Vu added, “I really want our idea, and us winning this competition, to inspire people to really work on their ideas and notice the small things in their lives that could really lead them to an amazing journey.”