Text and photo by Evan Tan
Twelve, tragedies, and tourism: these three together might not make much sense to you—until you get to know April Cuenca, and her startup Fliptrip.PH.
A Bachelor of Science Tourism undergraduate of the University of the Philippines, the young entrepreneur had worked as a tour guide, managed logistics for a travel show, and later worked as a tour operations consultant. During these times, April bore witness to an unsettling reality in the Philippines.
To address these, April established Fliptrip.PH—a simplified online travel planning and booking platform for off-the-beaten path destinations.
In 2014, Fliptrip.PH was selected as one of the top ten tech startups to receive early-stage funding from IdeaSpace Foundation, a local startup incubator and accelerator.
Below, April shares their journey since, and how Fliptrip.PH will change the face of Philippine tourism:
What inspired you to start Fliptrip.PH? Tell us what led you to starting the company, and why you chose the advocacy of spurring tourism in the Philippines.
Oddly enough, my love for travel and tourism comes from reacting to how our country is always plagued by typhoons. When I was 12, I would watch on the news how even after a week, there were communities that did not receive any rescue aid or relief; mainly because the access to those areas often become too dangerous to pass, or were non-existent to begin with. I wondered: how can we help communities like these help themselves and improve the infrastructure so that government agencies have better access? I promised myself that one day, I would do something about that.
I realised that through tourism, you can help build certain communities like these up; because the trickle-down effect of tourism can help communities to develop their own infrastructure (better structures, etc.). By helping smaller tourism communities to grow, we can help them to have more inclusive kind of growth, by creating more job opportunities for the locals to earn and generate more income for themselves. When you think about it, when you travel, to whom does your money go? It goes to your resort or your hostel; to your tour guide; your surf instructor; your boatman that took you to that next island; that restaurant or small eatery where you had your lunch; to that driver that took you to the next attraction. Your entire experience in a destination is made up and tied together by all these people, and you affect every single one of them by visiting their community, their home.
What would you say is the biggest challenge of the tourism sector here in the country? What hurdles do small businesses in the tourism sector face?
At first it was the lack of awareness of the different destinations, but social media has helped to spur more interest towards the smaller destinations. Today, the biggest hurdle is that access to the destinations tends to be expensive and strenuous, that small businesses are pushed to create value on their own to justify the expense of the traveller to their home. However, with the lack of capital and, oftentimes, training, they are often left ill-equipped and lacking in skills to provide a comfortable stay and experience for the vast market. Therefore, the challenge now is actually help our partners find cheap, yet effective, ways to somehow improve the quality of their services and facilities; whilst finding ways to create their own unique identities.
How do you see Fliptrip.PH changing the tourism industry here in the country? What would be Fliptrip.PH’s definition of success in terms of impact?
At FlipTrip.PH, we like to promote responsible tourism and the smaller businesses in off-the-beaten-path destinations. We want to affect change in the way people travel and where they travel too. We aim see more conscientious and experiential travellers exploring the Philippines, and experiencing the uniqueness of each of our destinations. By changing the way people travel, we can change the way destinations are shaped. Locals tend to develop their communities for tourism based on the demands of its market. By bringing more responsible tourists and exposing locals to this kind of ideal for travellers, we hope that we can empower and encourage them to develop their destinations in sustainable ways.
You imply that there is a problem of irresponsible tourism here in the country. Care to expound?
Irresponsible tourism is shaping the development of tourism communities based on selfish needs, with little regard to the limitations of the environment or the sensitivities of the local communities. For example, having hundreds of people inside a cave at the same time, when there should be only a few groups of 15 moving inside in a circuit instead. It is failure to practice something as basic as the environmental principles and respecting nature.
People often think that throwing trash is ‘okay’ because ‘it must be someone’s responsibility to pick up after you at a tourist destination’. It is the lack of respect for the value of money for others as compared to how you value it. People haggle their hearts out just to feel like they’ve gotten a bargain. 50 pesos (roughly two Singaporean dollars) is not the same for us as it is for a simple boatman, for instance. For many of them, that already means a half or a fourth of what they make in a day. It’s the difference between a meal they can give their family and a meal they can have with their family.
What is the nature of extent of irresponsible tourism and how has FlipTrip.PH sought to address this?
Little by little, through our content campaigns and reminders, we do our best to help promote responsible travel to our clients and followers. As well, we work with the local governments to help empower our partners and their stakeholders to take ownership of the tourism development in their respective communities. We make them aware that they can say “no”.
About the Founder
April Cuenca is a founder of FlipTrip.PH, which is one of the top ten startup companies to win in the IdeaSpace Foundation’s startup competition in 2014. April’s travels have taken her to 50 of the 81 provinces of the Philippines, and her biggest passion is helping others discover and explore her motherland.
Fliptrip.PH is a simplified online travel planning and booking platform for off-the-beaten path destinations. The company’s mission is to address the lack of ease and accessibility in trip planning and booking, thus improving the Philippine travel experience for every explorer and adventurer. They aim to help small businesses in local communities grow by stimulating economic development through tourism—providing locals opportunities to build better infrastructure and facilities within their province.
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