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Talking Travel with GuideGecko.com
Daniel sat down with me to talk about travel, GuideGecko.com, and the site's potential.
BY: Thanks for taking time away from Guide Gecko's exciting launch to correspond with Gadling. Where are you now, and do you have any plans to travel to either promote the site or for recreation in the near future?
DQ: I am in Singapore, the base for Guide Gecko and my 'hometown' in the last four years. Singapore is a perfect travel hub for South-East Asia, and I plan to visit Malaysia, Thailand, and perhaps Indonesia in the coming weeks and months. I don't have a fixed schedule yet, so maybe faithful Gadling readers can let me know if they know of any event that could be interesting for Guide Gecko, or if they simply want to meet up and say "hello."
BY: Can you briefly describe for our Gadling readers the kind of traveler you are? How often do you travel? Where is your dream destination? What is your preferred mode of travel?
DQ: I started traveling extensively during my studies, when I was a part time software developer for a major airline, and got to enjoy discounted tickets all around the world. Nowadays, I usually travel with my wife, and we try to go backpacking through southeast Asia every few months. I do like sightseeing in cities and temple ruins, but also enjoy lying in the water on a nice beach, sipping beers and waiting for the sunset. Given the proximity to Singapore, I would say that the 'double beach' on Pulau Redang, an island off of peninsular Malaysia's east coast, comes very close to being my dream destination.
BY: Where did the Guide Gecko idea come from? Of all genres (ie: fiction, non-fiction, coffee table reads), why did you choose travel?
DQ: Naturally, the idea came while traveling – in Penang, Malaysia, to be precise. We usually prefer to have a drink in a bar with some locals around us, and try to eat in places where not all of the other diners are fellow travelers ordering what the Lonely Planet recommends. Nothing against the Lonely Planet – we have big collection ourselves – but the locals know what's best and what not, and their information is always up-to-date. We thought there must be a way for both locals and tourists to profit from this. Our goal is to make this information available to anyone who is interested, in a concise way through travel, lifestyle and entertainment guides and not scattered over isolated travel tips or blogs.
BY: What service do you hope the site will provide for both writers and travelers in a way that is not yet offered online, through publishers, or in bookstores?
DQ: We bring authors and publishers together with customers and readers. We provide an opportunity for customers to find exactly the guides they need, and for authors to market their guides to consumers worldwide. Any budding author can publish his or her guide as a printed book or as a PDF download. The guide can have any length, from 1-1000 pages, and can cover any travel, lifestyle or entertainment topic. Publishing on Guide Gecko is free. As an author, you only need to write and upload your guide. We take care of everything else, from marketing and payment collection to printing and shipping. Authors set the retail price and earn up to 75% for each sale, from the first copy onwards.
BY: How does Guide Gecko market independently written guides by "greenhorn" travel writers? What kind of service does the site provide to ensure a degree of success for these guides opposed to the commercial (Lonely Planet, Frommer's, etc) guidebooks?
DQ: We intend to make Guide Gecko the first in mind website for travel guides. We believe it is a great way for independent authors to market their guides. Customers may visit the site to order a Lonely Planet but end up buying your guide, especially if you offer it as a reasonably priced PDF download. When writers publish their guide on Guide Gecko, it will be listed on the front page, where it gets maximum visibility. An affiliate program where website owners, such as travel or food bloggers, can promote our guides on their site and earn a certain share of the revenue is also in the works.
BY: Do you promote the site only on the internet, or do you use offline marketing as well?
DQ: We promote the site online and offline. We have already experienced great media coverage, including feature articles in magazines and newspapers. We have focused our offline efforts on Singapore and southeast Asia as a start. We've already participated an interview on TravelTalkRadio, a U.S. radio show. I continue to sum up the media coverage in Guide Gecko's company blog, so feel free to check that out for the details.
BY: If I were a consumer using the site, how could I be certain that I've chosen the best guidebook to fit my needs?
DQ: Our intention is to make the site as consumer friendly as possible. Users can find the right guides by searching not only by destination, but also by categories. You can combine categories too. For example, you can search for 'budget travelers' along with 'barhopping' -- or 'women' with 'wellness' (and vice versa). When it comes to quality, we have a rating and review system where you can read what others think about the guide. We are currently developing a 'preview' functionality, which allows you to preview certain pages before making a decision. If that's not enough, you can also ask questions to the author or to fellow users.
BY: I know you spent a considerable amount of time talking with travelers and writers to make this a great travel resource. What have you learned about the travel industry in the process, and in what ways had your initial vision for the site changed after gathering information, advice, and suggestions from travel enthusiasts like myself?
DQ: I have learnt that there are many budding travel writers with lots of interesting topics and good writing skills. However, many complain that there is a lack of opportunities to market their writings. They pitch their stories to magazines or guidebook publishers, only to collect rejection letters, if it all. I sincerely hope that Guide Gecko will provide them with the right tool to reach out to consumers. The market may be small for some niche topics, but with Guide Gecko, it is possible to serve such customers.
To give you an example, I am in contact with some authors who write guidebooks for travelers with disabilities, which are very comprehensive guides with lots of information you won't find in any off-the-shelf guide. (Who knew there is a wheelchair friendly access to the Sacré Coeur in Paris though an elevated walkway from a neighboring guesthouse!). I hope that Guide Gecko will provide such guides with the attention they deserve, and let the authors focus on writing more guides of this caliber while we take care of the marketing, logistics and payment.
I have also talked to potential customers. Many of them told me something like, "If you could provide us with good guides on where and how to travel with children, we'd be your first customers." That showed me that there is a demand for many niche topics, which is how we came up with our 68 guide categories.
BY: If all goes well with the Guide Gecko launch, in what ways could you see the site grow or expand?
DQ: I would like to venture more in the area of electronic guide formats. I believe this is the future for guidebooks. Who wants to carry a heavy book when you already have a large-screen camera or a PDA with you all the time? It would be good to offer downloads for commercially available titles as well, be it as PDFs or in more interactive formats. So, if you are a publisher interested in this field, do let me know and we can see how we can work together!
Travel enthusisiasts: STAY TUNED to Gadling and Guide Gecko next month for an opportunity to submit your travel guide requests and/or proposals for great prizes! Or, If you're a traveler in need of a special guide or a writer in need of platform and you're ready to get started, head over to GuideGecko.com right now and create an account. Membership is free.