Inside Retail: Tell us how Experience Philippines started.
Gian Gallegos: [In 2013], I wanted to encourage people to discover the Philippines to know their roots, and also to make friends and to have a community based [group].
And then my friend Chris and I were having coffee in Manila and thinking, ‘What is the best way to actually make friends? Why don’t we go and organise something where we travel around but we don’t tell people where they’re going? We can surprise them and we might attract the people who are a bit more adventurous.
The two primary reasons [I started Experience Philippines] was to make new friends and create that community among a very intimate group and second, for Filipinos to appreciate [seeing] more destinations that are not traditional places that you visit when you go around the village.
Inside Retail: What does Experience Philippines offer customers?
GG: Experience Philippines is primarily a community that offers themed experiences, adventures (travel was initially offered prior to the pandemic) and surprise gifts (which were offered during the lockdown). Customers can select and choose activities based on their mood, interest or relationship status. For example, customers who are single can join a themed adventure called Single Road Trip where they meet and connect with other singles.
Customers who love to learn about investing in the stock market can join the Stock Market online experience. Or if they have a long distance relationship and wish to send a surprise thematic gift, they can order a Jowa Gift box to send to their partner.
Inside Retail: Given the disruption to travel, how did you pivot the business last year?
GG: We have always been recognised as a travel startup. However, travel is just one of the avenues we use to create memorable experiences. Pivoting was not really an issue for us since we really specialise in creating experiences. During the pandemic, we merely started organising virtual experiences for corporations that are looking for a fun way to celebrate milestones in their companies.
Inside Retail: What are the quarantine-themed virtual experiences and what do they involve?
GG: The Experience Philippines Themed Online experiences are specially created and curated thematic virtual events that aim to:
- Encourage Filipino to try and test out activities based on their interest and curiosity without leaving the comforts of their home (well… at least for now.)
- Explore activities that are outside their comfort zones and feel positive about it.
- Connect with other Filipinos through fun, gamified, educational and inspiring virtual activities.
- Meet inspiring Experience Partners who are making a positive impact.
These themed online experiences can range from virtual hangouts, workshops, storytelling, virtual tours, etc. It is absolutely anything that can make online events more fun and memorable.
Inside Retail: Tell me about the customised boxes and what’s involved.
GG: As a company that values our customers’ happiness and wellness, we started pushing for our themed surprise boxes. In 2018, we started the Book A Surprise where customers receive a travel gift box of things they will use in their surprise travel. During the pandemic, we enhanced that concept to what we call Themed Surprise Gift Boxes – gifts based on your relationship status and/ or interest – the Jowa Gift Box (boyfriend/girlfriend), the Asawa Gift Box (married couple), the Sana All Gift Box (singles), the Moving On Gift Box, etc. These activities help our company survive and deepen our community engagement activities.
As you probably experienced during the onset of the 2020 quarantine, we all missed that human and physical connection. We missed the joy of seeing someone in person. We missed hanging out with friends and loved ones. To help express this desire of many, we started sharing to people that they can send surprise gift boxes. These gift boxes are personalised and customised gifts that contain things the other person likes from simple snacks, chocolates, warm hearted love letters, printing memorable photographs, audio dedications and all sorts of funny items that guarantee a feeling of happiness for the recipient.
Inside Retail: Do you think your products help customers with their mental health and self care, especially in times of lockdown?
GG: We started saying, why don’t we do the mystery box concept, but thematic so I think during this pandemic, people are feeling a bit more anxious. And I think the mental health generally of the people in Manila are tested. So I was thinking, what if we do something to make them feel a bit appreciated. Someone out there is really taking time to prepare something that they think about the person, even though it’s just a little thing. But something that they would appreciate, at the end of the day is basically something to make them happy and smile. So that’s why we started out now.
Inside Retail: Tell me about how your business supports local communities
GG: As a startup founder, my goal really is for many to fall in love with our Philippines. You know, when someone is in love, they do everything they can to cherish the one they love. I love my country. But I know the best way that we can bounce back and grow as a nation is to support local communities, businesses and community leaders. I am proud to say that just with our themed boxes we have helped over 20 individuals make money during this pandemic from delivery drivers, to jeepney drivers, to creative graphic artists, to online sellers, to Filipino handicraft makers. Each box we delivered supported these individuals and helped the recipients feel happy.
At the end of the day, we are in this together. There is no work that is insignificant if we [do them] with love, passion and the mindset of helping others. We do not aim to solve the world problem of the Philippines, but we do what we can to create genuine connections, build communities and deliver happiness in our own sphere of influence.
Inside Retail: What are your thoughts on how the travel industry in the Philippines is going right now and what are your plans for the business this year?
GG: The travel and tourism industry in the Philippines was really hit hard last 2020, the recovery period will still take a while. Although many provinces have eased their travel restrictions, traveling as a group still poses risk until the country has begun the process of giving vaccines to the Filipino people. There is still a long way to go. However, we can still help out. For Experience Philippines, we started reaching out to all the provincial governors, city mayors, tourism heads and local business communities and their leaders to do the following:
A. Create virtual tours via livestreams. We scheduled live streams with tourism heads, business owners, local leaders, etc
B. Share important information of Covid travel updates.
C. Write and share information on the following activities that happen in the following categories: Nature, adventure, sports, heritage, business, entertainment, skills, wellness, food, outreach
D. Educate our customers through our community page called Experience Philippines Community