Text by Avant Shrestha
‘Dulwa’ when loosely translated means ‘wanderer’ is a moniker Nipun Shakya, Founder of dulwa.com, received from his father because in his father’s words, ‘Yo 24 hours dulera basthiyo’. And strangely enough, it is this moniker that Shakya has converted into a business venture in the Nepali tourism industry. Nipun Shakya defines ‘dulwa’ as a person who travels.
The growth in the tourism industry worldwide has also meant a rise in the number of Nepali travellers, both international and domestic. Domestic tourism is a recent phenomenon and faces a critical challenge – lack of adequate information about the various local travel destinations in the country. dulwa.com aims to bridge this divide and become a platform where travelers get access to authentic and reliable information about unexplored and untouched places in Nepal.
dulwa.com was incepted three years ago in 2016 and is registered as Dulwa Expeditions and operates as a destination management company.
dulwa.com wasn’t founded overnight; it didn’t have a lightbulb moment. Actually, it is a result of a series of lightbulb moments. Shakya, along with his friend Tritha Raj Pokhrel, did extensive research and painstakingly formulated their business plan before execution. It took 18 months of research, talking to locals and vendors, visiting locations, gaining insights from tourists, and understanding the real pain points. Shakya claims, “I conducted my research from the ground level besides visiting the tourism board regularly and collecting data.”
During the course of his research, he discovered that there are almost 5000 travel and trekking agencies. But when looking at their online presence, only 13 to 14% had active websites, rest was all out-of-date. There was a critical gap in the tourism data.
“I noted a lack of proper information flow, negligible digital marketing and this was an opportunity we were losing. And lastly, when a Nepali had to book tour packages, we would actually rely on foreign media and end up paying more than what was necessary,” he shares.
Shakya was especially concerned about the lack of ‘proper’ marketing and information. He sees this as a serious flaw and a loss of opportunity. “There are so many stories that are misrepresented and are vague. And I believe such stories deserve to be told and heard globally. And these things will bring tourists in great numbers into the country.”
Dulwa will soon be launching their app which is currently in internal testing phase and due for launch in mid-October. Shakya describes the app as Instagram for travellers. The idea of the app is tap into current social media and the culture of sharing. When travelers use the app, they can post their stories, pictures and other travel related content and this would be the app’s point of content generation. “Today people love to share information about their travels and when ample people are involved in the app, we can feed on each other’s stories and have increased first hand updated information to use,” expresses Shakya.
The company was started with a personal investment of Rs 17 lakhs. “The investment is reflective of the faith of my friends and family on me, basically my dad. He was the one to scold me, he was the one who gave me the name ‘dulwa’, and he is the one who supports me and continuously believes in me. He is the major investor in my circle,” shares Shakya.
dulwa.com currently has a core group of four people who handle the daily operation, 20 freelancers, six people for content creation and six for app development. “Each of them is influential and important to us and this is basically the team that is moving dulwa.com forward”.
Currently dulwa.com provides booking services and packages. Shakya explains, “We basically ask people a few basic questions about their travel choices and preferences and within 24 hours we recommend them a destination. And after that, it’s totally up to them to choose where to go.”
Dulwa.com also aims to promote responsible traveling. “Nepali travelers do not generally think about sustainability and their social responsibility while they are traveling so we are trying to develop this mindset in the youth,” he shares
Starting a new business is challenging in Nepal. It is estimated that 90% of the startups fail to take off the ground. Shakya shares, “During the initial phase, I was working alone and did not have a clear vision but I did not give up and eventually when our team started getting bigger, the goals started getting more clear and it became encouraging.”
Three of the major issues according to Shakya are policy, investment and mindset. “The policies that were drafted in 1970 will not work in 2019. Similarly, we cannot plan for 2030 with polices made in 2019,” he elaborates.
In terms of revenue, dulwa.com’s main target is to attract at least 1000 premium foreign tourists and 10,000 Nepalis through their platform within 2020. Shakya explains, “If the Nepal government plans for 20 lakh tourists in the coming year, my target would be to contribute only 0.005% to this number. It is a small percentage but I am hopeful that they will be high paying tourists.”
dulwa.com recently won the 4th National Social Business Challenge, an annual program focused on promoting social entrepreneurship and job creation in Nepal. The company was awarded Rs. 1 lakh towards funding their business and a funded trip to Switzerland to pitch at the World Innovation Forum.