“We speak the language and we love this country”: How one start-up cracked Thailand’s biggest tour guide association

Back at the end of October, I had the pleasure of being invited to the AGM of PGAT (Professional Tourist Guide Association Thailand), an eye-opening event where I got to mingle with the exuberant and friendly members of Thailand’s biggest tour guide association.

The energy and charm of all the guides present was an absolute pleasure, as you would hope from a profession whose job is to inform and entertain members of the public in equal measure, but these guys’ enthusiasm and dedication to their job was actually rather inspiring – and coming from a cynical old British hack such as myself that really is saying something.

Exuberant and friendly

Invited as a friend of the European run, Thai based, global start-up iZZi guide, who were presenting their plans to evolve the world of destination management to the PGAT membership that evening and host the prize draw, I was keen to find out why Thailand’s leading tour guide association had given the new company its seal of approval when they have denied such a meaningful commendation to other organisations.

The short answer, as it often is, comes down to relationships. And talking to PGAT president, Wirote (Willy) Sitaprasertnand, not only do both, iZZi guide and the PGAT leadership seem to really like each other on personal level but also that the start-up genuinely understands the needs of tour guide professionals and want to free them from the day-to-day grind of paperwork and let them do what they do best – the aforementioned informing and entertaining of travellers to Thailand.

“At the beginning, we were not sure about the application; we have had many organisations that have contacted us in the past. But we were very impressed with the enthusiasm of the company and their desire to make the working life of our guides truly better. The objective of iZZi guide is to simplify the connection of the tour operator with the guide and increase efficiency”, said Sitaprasertnand.

iZZi guide team and Willy Sitaprasertnand present the 1st prize winners cheque

Sitaprasertnand went onto add: “Another stand out benefit of the application is that it will help Thai guides build relationships with the big European operators as we can now more efficiently match a traveller with guides who can show them the very best of Thailand, wherever they are in the country, but also the essence of Thai-ness. As guides, we now feel even more ready to serve travellers from all over the world.”

Curious about the level of involvement the PGAT had in the fine-tuning the functionality of the app iZZi guide co-founder, Ben Cherix, explained: “After my first meeting with Willy, I could see he wasn’t completely convinced by our study. As so many people had contacted him about making apps for tour guides, but then failed to follow through and complete projects — despite Willy being open to the potential of such a solution.”

PGAT members discuss the impact of iZZi guide

Leaning into the subject, Cherix added: This meeting was fuel for our passion and after I got back to the office I sat down with my colleagues to create a plan that we could offer to directly impact the needs of PGAT, such as building a new database; helping them to communicate better with their members; raising their visibility and concepts that would boost the quality of training sessions.

We put all of this on paper and I went back to Willy with our plan for the app to be an actual useful working tool for guides and not just a way to get more bookings, which will improve their daily life.”

Benjamin Cherix: iZZi guide co-founder

It’s crystal clear that iZZi guide isn’t just a group of tech boys who have spotted a gap in the market they wish to exploit to make a quick buck, as the endlessly effervescent co-founder pointed out:

“There are one or two other apps out there but we are here, we are in Thailand, we speak the language and we love this country and we want to give it the spotlight it deserves; we will continue to work with DMCs, host events and bring everyone together to create a real community of guides.”

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