Voyagin wants you to be more original on your trip to Southeast Asia

By Richard Nieva , written on December 18, 2012

From The News Desk

Planning a vacation is always hard. That might be the reason cruises are popular. Book a cruise, and in one fell swoop, you’ve taken care of where you’ll go, where you’ll stay, and what you’ll do when you get there. And it’s the “what you’ll do” part that’s the most challenging when you’re going to a new place and don’t know where to start. But on a cruise, all of it can be planned out for you: 10 am, breakfast buffet; 11:30 am, limbo contest.

The one downside? You’re spending part of your precious, hard-earned vacation day in a goddamn limbo contest. (Apologies to any limbo enthusiasts out there.)

The vacation activity-booking site Voyagin launches today in Tokyo, Japan, and it wants to make sure you can instead do things like going swimming with glowing plankton in Maya Bay, Thailand rather than getting stuck doing a bunch of stuff you don't care about. The website is very similar to Vayable -- the names even sound alike -- but Voyagin is specifically tailored to vacationers exploring Southeast Asia. Three hundred and fifty vacation activities are available for booking through the site in five countries: Japan, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, and India.

The website targets western visitors, as well as Japanese visitors, looking to explore other parts of the region. Chief Executive Masashi Takahashi founded the company as FindJPN, which essentially does the same thing, but was limited to only Japan. The company, which was part of the Japanese incubator Open Network Lab, raised about $475,000 and later on decided to expand its reach.

A user visiting the website can search by country and by categories, including food, arts, and culture, and “off the beaten path,” where a user might book a haunted tour in India or a perfume-making class in in Indonesia.

The real point of pride for the Voyagin team is how authentic they claim the experiences are. The company vets every activity host to make sure the experience is safe, and has spoken to each vendor personally – 90 percent of them in person. And about half of the activities available on the site were recommended from other activity vendors, says Tushar Khandelwal, the company’s head of community, which means he deals directly with the vendors.

But why does the Asian travel market need its own service? The company claims that travel in Asia is broken. Khandelwal says local activity hosts generally don’t keep their websites up to date, because it’s difficult and just not as big a concern for those vendors. Travelers are also wary of safely transferring money directly through local websites, so Voyagin created a secure payment gateway.

One gripe – perhaps it’s nitpicky – is in the branding. The service bills itself as the travel planner for Southeast Asia. But Southeast Asia is bigger than just those five countries. Obviously, today is literally day one for the company, so it’s not fair to judge a company on that scalability. But while explaining the service to me Khandelwal says to me, “Pick a country, and I’ll tell you what you can do there.”

“Okay, how about Singapore?” I ask, genuinely curious – not intending to be a jerk, trying to stump him. After all, there is a major airline based in the country. He instead lists me a few places in Thailand, the closest Voyagin destination country to Singapore. Still, it’s a more robust search experience in the region than its more generalized competitors offer. A query for activities in Indonesia on Voyagin brings up 50 results. At Vayable, just one.

And for the limbo enthusiasts, perhaps there’s a contest somewhere on the Japanese shoreline.

[Image courtesy Yoshikazu TAKADA]