Master's thesis for Hyper Island Digital Management MA.

designing for tourism innovation in



by Marc Morrell

WORD COUNT: 16,331


1.1 Abstract

1.2 Scope

1.3 Methodology

1.4 Ethics


2.1 Introduction

2.2 Defining Innovation

2.3 How is Tourism Changing?

2.4 The Thai Startup Ecosystem


3.1 Introducing the Industry Experts

3.2 A Perspective on the Future of Travel

3.3 The Impact of Culture

3.4 Understanding Innovation

3.5 The Role of Trust

3.6 New Insights

3.7 Conclusions


4.1 Why AirBnB is Innovative

4.2 How AirBnB Innovate

4.3 Translating Values into Actions

4.4 Insights


5.1 Who are TakeMeTour?

5.2 The Perspective of the Founders

5.3 The Future for TakeMeTour

5.4 The Competition

5.5 My Insights

5.6 Defining the Challenge


6.1 Designing a Response to the Challenge

6.2 Building a Culture of Empathy and Trust at TakeMeTour

6.3 Turning Empathy and Trust into Innovative Value


7.1 Feedback

7.2 Interpreting the Feedback

7.3 Iterations

7.4 Conclusion















1.1 Abstract

1.2 Scope

1.3 Methodology

1.3.1 Tools

1.3.2 Techniques

1.3.3 Limitations of the Methodology

1.4 Ethics


This research project explored tourism innovation in Thailand. For three months of

its four month duration I worked as an intern at TakeMeTour in Bangkok, a Thai travel

startup specialising in one day tours hosted by locals. The project was conducted in

Thailand as it is one of the world’s pre-eminent tourism destinations, with an economy

heavily reliant on the tourism industry. However, Thailand’s innovation output within

the travel tech space struggles to match the digital economy aspirations of the Thai

Government. Through working with TakeMeTour I have been able to research the

possible causes, as well as identify ways in which the company can respond to trends,

threats, and opportunities to better innovate in a challenging climate.

The project began by travelling to Thailand with a number of research questions around

innovation, tourism trends, and the Thai startup ecosystem. Once integrated into the

company, I began by consulting pre-published information to familiarise myself with

the context in which I was working, as well as understand that which was already known

about the difficulties associated with tourism innovation in Thailand. Thereafter, through

deeper immersion into the Thai startup ecosystem, I conducted interviews with experts

where I sought to explore how my findings intersected in the real world, as well as to

gain a deeper insight into where they believed the biggest challenges lay. In combination

with a case study of an innovative tourism company, as well as my direct findings

through observation and interaction at TakeMeTour, the project developed towards

a set of recommendations designed to enhance TakeMeTour’s innovation capabilities

within its local context.


Tourism is a key enabler of the global economy yet historically has been reactive to

technological advancements (IATA, 2017). Therefore, this is not a problem unique to

Thailand. However, whilst understanding that this is a globally pervasive issue, this

research project seeks to identify ways in which the industry might become more

proactive in Thailand specifically. This will begin by exploring the following three

research questions:

Where is the current academic thinking on innovation and is it relevant to tourism?

What is changing in travel and how are new trends likely to impact TakeMeTour?


How well developed is Thailand’s startup scene and what factors influence its

innovative capabilities?

In seeking answers to these questions, the project will conclude with a respectful

blueprint for TakeMeTour’s future innovation needs, proposing solutions to anticipated

changes, unforeseen challenges, and how they may be met with the confidence to

embrace them as opportunities.


‘It’s surprising how frequently policymakers solve the wrong problem; a problem perceived

in one way by the outside world but totally differently by those actually experiencing it.’

(Hilton, 2015, p.25)

A selection of tools and techniques applied in previous research activity at Hyper Island

have been selected to ensure the most appropriate research practises to identify the

correct problems and appropriate solutions.

1.3.1 TOOLS


Agile working is a response to the historical hierarchical approaches to managing

projects, creating new ways for teams to adapt quickly to turbulent markets by taking

them out of silos and encouraging customer-centric self management instead (Rigby et

al, 2016).

The ‘Manifesto for Agile Software Development’ emphasises four core principles,

which help achieve this (Cervone, 2011):

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.

Working software over comprehensive documentation.

Customer collaboration over contract negotiation.

Responding to change over following a plan.

The flexibility that Agile offers is suitable for conducting this research project as there are

multiple unknowns and an unspecified desired outcome. It may be necessary to adapt

and alter my approach as the project develops, therefore Agile principles are suitable

for responding to the unexpected and allowing the project to be led by discovery, rather

than belief.


‘Design Thinking is a human-centred approach to innovation that draws from the

designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the

requirements for business success.’ – (Brown, IDEO, no date)

This project will likely require the use of empathy, therefore as Design Thinking is about

a deep understanding of the lives of the people being designed for, it obliges an open

mind, rather than the selling of one’s own ideas (Hilton, 2015).


The design process can be convoluted and misunderstood by those who do not

consider themselves designers. Aiming to address this, a prominent model that gives

Design Thinking structure is the British Design Council’s Double Diamond, Fig. 1, which

guides the design thinker through two diamond shaped journeys, using the concept of

divergent and convergent thinking in order to arrive at two touch points to define and

deliver a solution. This project will use the following Design Thinking framework:


Fig. 1: Double Diamond, British Design Council, 2005


Connect and empathise; gather information and understand the problems. Look at the

world in a fresh way, notice new things and gather insights.


Collate and analyse information to help define the specific problem. The goal here is to

develop a clear creative brief that frames the fundamental research challenge.

Arrive at the definition of the problem the research project intends to solve:

How Might We_____________________________________?


Generation of ideas where concepts are created, prototyped, tested and iterated. A

process of trial and error aids the design thinker to refine ideas.


The finalising and implementation of outcomes, leading to the production or launch of

a product, service or intervention.


To enhance the efficacy of Design Thinking, a qualitative research approach will be

used. This will begin by exploring previous research, thereafter seeking elaboration,

enhancement, illustration, and clarification through interviews and observation (Morse

and Field, 1996).


I have a long standing association with the travel industry as a former Airline Captain

and through the family tourism business Voyages Jules Verne, presenting a risk of

confirmation bias as the research develops towards conclusions. This project should

be guided by discovery, not preconception. Easterly Smith et al’s work on designing

research emphasise awareness of this by reference to Ontology, how we construct

reality, and Epistemology, the set of assumptions about how to investigate the world

(Easterby Smith et al, 2012).


My own ontological and epistemological construction leans towards the ‘Interpretivist

Paradigm’, where the world is socially constructed and subjective (Easterby-Smith et

al,1991). Mindful of this, the method I intend to use for data collection is an ethnographic

one, an anthropological practice which assumes ‘observations and open ended interviews

reveal more about a person’s beliefs, needs, emotions, and desires than opinion surveys and

market research ever could.’ (Hilton, 2015, p.24)


Forming the basis of the Literature Review, this will comprise consultation and critical

analysis of pre-published information, sourced from academic articles, trusted sources,

and literature surrounding the research questions outlined above. The findings will be

treated as conjecture upon which deeper exploration of their practical application will

be applied to help formulate theory (Morse and Field, 1996).


As part of qualitative research I have chosen to conduct Expert Interviews as a rich

source of real world insight. According to Meuser and Nagel, an expert is defined as

follows (Meuser and Nagel, as cited in Van Audenhove, 2007):

A person responsible for the development, implementation or control of solutions/


A person who has privileged access to information about groups of persons or

decision processes.

It is important to establish that knowledge obtained from experts is not neutral and that

interview style and setting influences information obtained (Van Audenhove, 2007). In

order to obtain the best possible qualitative data, I have approached experts on the basis

of their relevance to the topics that I am exploring and shall conduct open ended, semistructured

interviews that place an emphasis on eliciting motives, beliefs, and routines

to gain deep insight into their expertise (Van Audenhove, 2007).

All participants will be advised of the purpose of their participation, their right to

withdraw within a specified time frame and shall, where possible, be recorded.


This will involve integrating myself in to the day-to-day workings of TakeMeTour and

observing the way they operate. I do not intend to interfere or advise, rather to ask

questions as I go along to build a broad understanding of where the organisation is

in its evolution and where the areas for development may be through comparison

to the findings from desk research and interviews.



The existing body of research around tourism innovation in Thailand is slim, therefore

the intention of this project is to uncover new insights and provide new knowledge.

However, there are limitations to what can be achieved within the time-frame

and context:

• Although the Thai startup I am working with speak English, their business is partly

conducted in Thai, which I do not speak. This may mean that subtleties and nuances

that could lead to deeper insight are missed. Where appropriate, I will ask for

clarification and/or translation.

• Access to other startups in Thailand is limited by the size of the ecosystem. From

early research, the guarding of intellectual property is a particular concern, therefore

I have been asked not to contact TakeMeTour’s direct competition. I will seek

permission from TakeMeTour before approaching other companies in Thailand for

research purposes and I will be protective of their IP.

• I will not have access to sensitive company information, such as financials, and have

signed a non-disclosure agreement with the company. Therefore, I will be unable to

assess the financial health of the business and draw inferences from it.

• Culture eats strategy for breakfast; to that extent I will always be mindful of the

context in which this project is taking place. I do not intend to criticise or change

national culture, or even company culture, rather to observe and respectfully reveal

an alternative perspective for TakeMeTour’s consideration.

These challenges, if managed correctly and ethically, can advance awareness of this

particular research area and lead to a useful intervention for TakeMeTour.


‘In a region as big as Asia, you run the gamut of cities/countries that are ultra sensitive

and respectful around privacy, and those who don’t understand why there would even be

a concern in the first place.’ (Peng, as cited in Kelley, 2015, p.54)

IDEO’s David Kelley suggests that ethics are an abstract construct, but broadly comprise

bringing respect, responsibility and honesty to our dealings with people. This applies to

those we teach, as well as those we learn from, therefore the challenge is to make the

abstract concrete (Kelley, 2015).

When operating in a foreign country, Kelley argues that ethical behaviour should be

held to a higher standard than that which the law requires and in so doing suggests the

following as a set of ethical principles and guidelines by which to abide (adapted from

IDEOS’s Little Book of Research Design Ethics, 2015, p.44):



Honour participants’ limits and value their comfort. Treat them as people rather than subjects

and be kind. In a country like Thailand ask: “Am I being respectful?”, “Do I have consent?”


Act to protect people’s current and future interests and do not mislead.


Be truthful and timely in communication.


Planning & Preparation

Keep TakeMeTour accurately informed

Seek support to clarify ethical ambiguity

Give interview participants clear explanations

Seek permission, not forgiveness

Keep research activities lean in the field

Gathering Information

Introduce myself accurately

Listen and don’t advise

Don’t make promises I can’t keep

Take only the information needed


Using & Sharing

Consider the audience

Represent honestly what I learn

Guard raw data

Protect participants’ recognisability and traceability

Archive materials carefully


As a large portion of this project will be conducted in Thailand, cultural sensitivity

is a primary consideration. Research may involve inquiry and exploration of history,

etiquette, dress, and food, particulars bound up in national identity that may

inadvertently cause offence if questioned or challenged insensitively (Duncan, 2011).

Therefore, in ‘The Power of Ethical Management’ Blanchard and Peale suggest that

when researching cross-culturally, assumptions and uncertainties should be tested

against the following (Blanchard and Peale, 1988):

Is it legal? Will I break any civil laws or company regulations?

Has the relationship balance been achieved? Is it fair towards all it may concern, in both

short and long-term perspectives? Does it promote the relations of mutual benefits?

How shall I feel afterwards? Will it make me proud? Would I feel good if my findings were

published in the newspapers? Would I feel good if my family found out about it?


Finally, this project will comprise information and perspectives drawn from multiple

sources. However, as the focus is ultimately on TakeMeTour, the company wish to have

this report made only accessible to Hyper Island and the assessors at Teeside University.




2.1 Introduction

2.2 Defining Innovation

2.2.1 Why Innovation Matters

2.2.2 What Causes Companies to Fail?

2.2.3 Making Innovation More Predictable

2.2.4 How Innovation Efforts Can Be Shared

2.2.5 Identifying New Markets

2.2.6 The Building Blocks of an Innovative Culture

2.2.7 Insights

2.3 How is Tourism Changing?

2.3.1 A Greater Desire for Humanity in Travel

2.3.2 Competing with Digital Realities

2.3.3 Artificial Intelligence & Greater Personalisation

2.3.4 Insights

2.4 The Thai Startup Ecosystem

2.4.1 Understanding the Startup Approach

2.4.2 Contextualising Thailand’s Startup Ecosystem

2.4.3 Identifying the Challenges

2.4.4 The Possible Causes

2.4.5 The Impact of National Culture

2.4.6 Insights


Travel and tourism offerings are a sizeable portion of the startup landscape (Paget et

al, 2010). However, tourism innovation literature is fragmented and scattered around

niche specialisations with little addressing Asia generally and Thailand more specifically.

Thailand is a particularly interesting case study as it is amongst the most visited

countries in the world with a significant portion of its GDP attributable to tourism, yet

its tourism innovation output within the travel-tech space is currently under developed

(Russell, 2017). The Literature Review will begin by defining and establishing the case for

innovation, followed by an analysis of shifting trends in tourism and where the industry

should focus its innovation efforts. The general findings from these two sections will

then be contextualised through an in-depth exploration of the Thai startup ecosystem

in order to understand its unique characteristics and identify where the challenges to

stimulating tourism innovation in Thailand may lie. For the purpose of establishing

a working definition of tourism in this project, the UN World Tourism Organisation’s

definition will be used:


‘Tourism comprises the activities of persons traveling to and staying in places outside

their usual environment for not more than one consecutive year for leisure, business and

other purposes’ (World Tourism Organisation, 1993).

The global tourism industry is often faced with the challenge of understanding how to

develop innovation capabilities from within (Martinez, 2017). Further, the multi-modal

and complex activities of tourism companies make an objective study of how to address

those innovation challenges from an empirical and theoretical point of view difficult

(Cruz et al. 2016). However, tourism can be broadly arranged into three distinct sectors

of Transportation, Accommodation, and Activities. Therefore, this Literature Review will

mitigate some of the above by focussing on those innovation challenges most relevant

to TakeMeTour’s ‘Activities’ sector.


‘Not all innovation is technological. Although digital transformation has reached the

tourism industry in earnest and is gradually changing jobs and customer relations, it is

important to understand that technology is not an end, but a means, and that tourism is

an individual experience, often shared on — and offline.’ (Martinez, 2017)

Many tourism providers have harnessed the power of smart technologies to create

solutions to tasks that had previously been fulfilled by less desirable means (Huang et al,

2015). Whilst technological advancements may be revolutionary, it is arguable that their

innovative value in tourism is the progress they present for better human interactions. In

other words, technology is an innovation enabler, not an end in itself (Diekhöner, 2017).

It has been said that innovation is a theory of the history of how society moves

forward, thus it is more than just a business imperative (Gobble, 2015). However,

multiple theories are still debated about what causes one product to succeed where

another fails, raising questions as to whether innovative success is predictable or

whether luck plays a hand (Christensen, 2016).


Fig. 2:

Reeves et al,, 2015


Global Consultancy firm McKinsey report that 84% of global executives cite innovation

as extremely important to their growth strategies (McKinsey, 2010). Analysis of the

figures demonstrate that their priorities are well founded; innovation, and the creative

destruction it gives rise to, has resulted in only 12% of Fortune 500 firms from the 1960s

being in existence today (Perry, 2016).

Further, with reference to Fig. 2, it can be seen that the average lifespan of a Public

company is decreasing year on year, largely because of an inability to adapt to the

complexity of the modern business landscape (McGrath, 2013). According to Innosight,

at the current turnover rate, 75% of the S&P 500 will be replaced by 2027 (Innosight,

2017). With a significant number of leading tourism brands, including Expedia and

Hilton, on the S&P 500, it is highly likely that tourism providers will need to engage in

continuous evolution in order to adapt to the volatility of international travel demands

for both survival and growth (Hsu et al, 2016).

It may be said that many corporations are still not well placed to innovate, with a

tendency towards developing established concepts more efficiently, rather than

adopting new thinking. Consequently, Steve Hilton observes two distinct types of

response when confronted with a threat from a competitor (Hilton, 2016, p.222):

1. Erecting barriers to entry to prevent new, more innovative competitors from launching,

or succeeding once they launch;

2. Adopting a collaborative, human-centred approach, often with multiple parties,

based on mutually beneficial relationships to produce greater value for

society than could otherwise be produced on their own.

Insofar as the second approach is favourable, it is helpful to identify commonalities

and causalities that may encourage and enhance the thinking necessary to succeed

at innovation.


Disruption Theory describes a phenomenon in which products that lack in traditionally

favoured attributes can transform a market and capture mainstream consumers from

formerly dominant companies (Guttentag, 2013). Initially developed to understand why

companies fail, Professor Christensen has also identified characteristics common to

successful disruptive products (Christensen, 2015):

• Typically underperform against a prevailing product’s key performance metrics.

• Offer a distinct set of new benefits, such as being cheaper.

• Appeal to the low-end of the market or create a completely new market.

Fig. 3 illustrates how companies should be vigilant to falling behind as products or

services with disruptive attributes gain in popularity. A noteworthy example in tourism

is AirBnB, who addressed consumer needs by connecting tourists directly with hosts in

destination, thereby disrupting traditional hotels because of its relative value for money

and the new ‘local’ experience the sector created (Hsu et al, 2016).

However, not every new idea that aspiring entrepreneurs may wish to launch is

disruptive and its overuse may distract from the real issues with emergent products

and companies (Gobble, 2015). Further, whilst Disruption Theory is useful for identifying

potential threats, it does not attempt to make the argument that ‘new is good’ and nor

is it the only way to gain a competitive advantage (Gobble, 2015).


Fig. 3: What is Disruptive Innovation?,, 2015


If Disruption Theory attempts to understand what causes companies to fail, Jobs Theory

may help explain the underlying causal mechanism that allows innovation to become

predictable: understanding the progress a consumer is trying to make in particular

circumstances (Christensen, 2016). Jobs Theory asserts that to accurately predict what

a customer wants, companies must understand why a customer chooses a particular

solution to a specific problem. With reference to Fig. 4, Christensen argues that most

customer purchases do not centre exclusively around function, rather they often

have powerful social and emotional components that are overlooked by traditional

innovation efforts. Understanding these motivations can lead to solving problems

that formerly had only inadequate solutions (Christensen et al, 2016).

Fig. 4: Jobs Theory, Klement, 2016


Whilst each ‘Job’ may contain the same three emotional desires as outlined by

Christensen, Klement argues each ‘Job’ is a unique combination and ratio of these

desires. Therefore, Jobs Theory demands that assumptions are removed and instead,

innovators should ascertain the validity of their ‘Job’ by asking “How might my customer

be better since they started using this product?” (Klement, 2016).

Finally, it must be stated that Jobs Theory attempts to deal with real people and their

behaviours, therefore it does not distil numerical data that can be manipulated in

spreadsheets. Instead, it attempts to explain that numbers can disguise stories that

are otherwise rich in data and require a uniquely human-centred approach to elicit

(Christensen, 2016).


The phenomenon by which innovation efforts are shared between different companies

is commonly referred to as Open Innovation, based upon Professor Chesbrough’s

theory that knowledge to innovate rarely resides in a single organisation. Where

many innovation efforts have traditionally been a vertical, top-down system of Closed

Innovation, Fig. 5 illustrates ways in which Open Innovation encourages collaboration

amongst multiple different parties who may historically have been seen as competitors

(Chesbrough, 2003).

Fig. 5:

Chesbrough,, no date

The Open Innovation paradigm consists of two distinct phenomena, Outside-In and

Inside-Out (Chesbrough, 2012).

Outside-In: Opening up a company’s innovation processes to many kinds of external inputs

and contributions.

Inside-Out: Organisations allow unused and under-utilised ideas to go outside the

organisation for others to use in their businesses.


Today, Open Innovation is a mainstream research area and has been shown to help

companies reduce costs, accelerate time to market, increase differentiation in the

market, and create new revenue streams (Gassmann et al, 2010), However, Pisano

warns that Open Innovation is not an ‘off the shelf’ solution for galvanising innovation;

efforts must be led by management who believe in it and new strategies should be

implemented to ensure its effectiveness as part of a coherent system (Pisano, 2015).

This may be particularly important in Thailand as it is known that many companies

closely guard their intellectual property. Further, whilst efforts of the Thai government

are actively encouraging more open-source adoption, greater education of the benefits

would need to occur prior to widespread adoption (Yu, 2016).


Taking a more strategic perspective, Blue Ocean references a new market space a

company can open up through innovation, rather than focussing on a share of an

established market (Kim & Mauborgne, 2004). Similar to aforementioned academic

thought, the authors suggest that good ideas alone do not lead to profitable innovations,

rather optimising profitability and ensuring execution are crucial. The discovery of Blue

Oceans is often inhibited by limited resources, lack of motivation amongst stakeholders,

employee indifference and internal politics (Kim & Mauborgne, 2004).

Blue Oceans appear in one of two ways, through the launch of completely new

industries, or when a Blue Ocean is created from within a Red Ocean, as a company

expands the boundaries of an existing industry (HBR, 2004). However, it should be

noted that simply creating something original is not enough to create and capture a

Blue Ocean, rather it is a strategy that aligns value, profit, and people propositions in

pursuit of both differentiation and low cost (Randall, 2015).

More recently Kim & Mauborgne have addressed the above barriers to discovering Blue

Oceans through emphasis on a more human approach to innovation that focusses on

confidence of employees as a function of company culture (Kim & Mauborgne, 2017).


Reinforcing the concept of employee confidence, having studied innovation among 759

companies based in 17 major markets, Tellis et al concluded that corporate culture was

a much more important driver of radical innovation than labour, capital, government or

even national culture (Tellis et al, 2009). However, their research gives rise to two further

lines of enquiry: what exactly is an innovative culture and is it possible to create one if it

does not exist?

Weintreib and Rau suggest that all successful innovative cultures will consist of 6

building blocks (Weintreib and Rau, 2013):


• Values

• Behaviours

• Climate

• Resources

• Processes

• Success

Their research highlights that many companies will focus on resources, processes and

success due to their tangible metrics. However, the values, behaviours, and climate

segments are less quantifiable, but equally as important. Further, this theory

suggests that all successfully innovative companies will have at least one of the building

blocks firmly in place (Weintreib and Rau, 2013). This is significant for the contours of

this project as the research is being conducted in Thailand and it is long established that

national culture informs strategic and operational culture in organisations in different

parts of the world (Schneider, 1989).

In answering their original question, the authors concluded that cultures change very

slowly and it is difficult to change deep-seated beliefs and behaviours and redefine

success quickly. Therefore, they recommend resisting trying to change lots of things

at once and instead to focus on small victories to leverage their successes into a

broader transformation (Weintreib and Rau, 2013).


Recent innovation thinking promotes an empathy driven process, which is less about

technology itself, rather insight into human needs in order to identify gaps in the market

where progress can be made. This may be a helpful insight for understanding tourism

innovation, particularly as it is a deeply human, experiential endeavour.

Research uncovers a compelling link between innovation and culture. Therefore, it is

probable that challenging convention, sharing ideas, or risking failure may be counterintuitive

in certain cultural settings and modern innovation paradigms may be more

appropriate within particular cultural contexts than others.

As tourism is a complex and culturally diverse ecosystem, it is arguable that an ability

to understand what it is customers are trying to achieve, and to co-operate commercially

with other businesses to create holistic experiences, may be a competitive advantage.

The extent to which any of these practises are either implemented or understood in

Thailand as part of its broader innovation strategies will need to be investigated further

through interviews with experts.


The way tourism experiences are located and curated has changed significantly in

recent years, with demand for standardised tour products declining steadily due to

the rise of online travel agents, location-based services, data analytics, and the sharing

economy (Guttentag, 2013). These have empowered tourists to co-create their travel

experiences with destination-based suppliers, thereby reducing the need for the

traditional operators (Hsu et al, 2016). Further, the demand for technology-enabled

travel experiences is increasing, rendering traditional tourism providers vulnerable

to disruption (Neuhofer et al, 2015).

Travel industry analysts Skift have identified significant emerging tourism trends.

This includes the maturation of TakeMeTour’s ‘Activities’ segmentation. Reference is

also made to other macro-trends, three of which may have an impact on the Activities

market: a future with a greater desire for humanity, a future where Artificial

Intelligence aids greater personalisation and an alternative vision where the future

is created through Digital Realities (Ali, 2017). Therefore, it is helpful to understand

how these changes may create a new set of challenges within the Activities market so

experience providers can adapt to keep pace (Hsu et al, 2016).


The collaborative consumption of underused assets, which give rise to the potential

for more authentic local experiences, has become known as the ‘Sharing Economy’

(Guttentag, 2013). More recently, this trend has also been referred to as the ‘Experience

Economy’ (Hsu et al, 2016). A desire for authenticity in travel is not new, as MacCannell

noted in 1973 that many travellers have:

‘A desire to share in the real life of the places visited, or at least to see that life as it is really

lived. Tourists try to enter back regions of the places they visit because these regions are

associated with intimacy of relations and authenticity of experiences.’

(MacCannell, 1973, p.589)


Arguably, part of the popularity of platforms such as AirBnB, Uber, and Couchsurfing,

digital platforms that link peer-to-peer resources (Alstyne, 2016), is that they allow new

ways for MacCannell’s insights to be realised. By acting as trust intermediaries between

individuals, rather than the use of agencies, the anticipated growth of the Sharing

Economy presents a future for many other facilities and experiences to be shared

between people outside of traditional suppliers (Diekhöner, 2017).

However, whilst sharing economy practises partly cater for a desire for deeper

human connection, conflict has developed between sharing platforms and regulatory

authorities, whose legislation has failed to keep pace (Guttentag, 2013). In some

countries, such as Thailand, sharing economy practises are now being made illegal,

largely due to pressure from the incumbents (Rauch & Schleicher, 2015).

Although the argument in favour of the continued growth of the Sharing Economy is

its potential for a greater number of services and human connections, experience

providers may need to balance this against the continuing regulatory clampdown and

pressure from the incumbents they are likely to face (Guttentag, 2013). Despite the

Sharing Economy’s growing importance to the tourism economy, it is a phenomenon

currently characterised by uncertainty, raising the question of what else may cater for

a desire for closer connection if sharing’s reach is curtailed (Allen, 2015).


Competing at the other end of the spectrum from the Sharing Economy, platforms and

products collectively known as ‘Digital Realities’ are forecast to become a USD 162 billion

market by 2020, with significant potential impact for the travel industry (Peltier, 2017).

These technologies comprise the following (Sabre, 2017):

Virtual Reality (VR) VR, Fig. 6, allows the real world to be supplanted by digital, with

the potential to ‘experience’ any number of activities, all without leaving home. This is likely

to have significant impact on travel pre-planning habits.

Augmented Reality (AR) An evolution of what a traditional tour guide already offers,

AR adds a layer of digital content to a user’s real-world while still keeping the senses engaged

in the real-world environment. Amongst other tourism benefits is the possibility of real

time translation.

Mixed Reality (MR) Augmented Reality plus interaction; blending the user’s real-world

with digitally-created content, where both environments coexist and interact with each other.

Fig. 6: VR,, 2017


In China, tour operator Zanadu have become the world’s first VR travel concept store,

using VR tours and e-catalogues that are integrated with mobile e-commerce and social

media for a ‘Try Before You Buy’ travel experience, whilst a similar feature is being

trialled by European tour operator Thomas Cook (O’Neill, 2017).

With our computing power being doubled every two years, as explained by Moore’s

law (Moore, 1965), traditional experience providers may need to be vigilant to Digital

Realities’ developments insofar as they become sufficiently compelling to not just

complement, but replace the travel experience altogether (Huang et al, 2015). However,

despite optimistic adoption predictions, Digital Realities are both expensive from a

hardware point of view and complex technologically (Evans, 2017). Therefore, the

question of accessibility to the expertise and financial resources necessary to develop

and exploit their potential must be considered. It is highly likely that smaller travel firms

may struggle to compete if the necessary resources are accessible only to the world’s

most powerful companies (Evans, 2017).


Artificial Intelligence automates computer processes to understand and mimic the

human brain; its applications involve both natural language processing and machine

learning (Eggleton, 2017). This is significant for tourism as many established operators

typically possess large amounts of passenger data that AI is well suited to interpret

(Ayers, 2016). If applied successfully in tourism, this may enable the creation of hyperpersonalised

services (Eggleton, 2017).

AI is already being incorporated into innovative technologies such as robotics

applications, autonomous cars, and drones (Mori, 2016), yet its influence may extend

to a number of other areas of the travel experience (Ayers, 2016):

Faster and Easier Customer Services: such as that already developed by Expedia,

or smart bookings such as those used by SnapTravel and 30 Seconds to Fly.

Learning Unique Preferences: Virtual Assistants make smart assumptions and use

that information to make bookings that meet expectations quickly and conveniently.

Convenient Transportation: monitoring different sorts of traffic and reducing

congestion residents and visitors alike.

Robotic Concierges: IBM’s Watson allows hotels to provide virtual concierges,

such as Hilton’s Connie, to further personalise their guest’s experiences.

Big Data Insights: giving service providers the ability to create greater personalisation

and unique differentiation for tourists, real-time travel assistance and the ability to meet

future needs.

AI’s disruptive potential may be particularly advantageous as a general trend for

personalisation develops in tourism (Ali, 2017). According to recent research in the

United Kingdom and the USA conducted by AgileOne, 70% of respondents said they

now expect a high degree of personalisation through customised products, content,

communication methods, and services. Further, the key to that personalisation is the

ability to collect and use data on customers (cited in Zbik, 2017). However, it is highly

likely that the resources required to exploit AI will be accessible only to the world’s most

valuable companies, therefore raising the possibility of an even larger chasm developing

between the SMEs and the established travel players (Evans, 2017).


With many layers to the tourism industry in Thailand, the above is not exhaustive,

rather an indication of the diversity of influences the Activities segment may encounter.

A commonality is that traditional distribution channels, and SMEs in particular, may face

competitive challenges from those companies with the resources able to exploit new

technologies, new sectors, and shifting habits.


On the one hand, a growing Sharing Economy offers the possibility of deeper human

connection, whilst on the other hand a pressing challenge for experience providers in

Thailand may be to identify new ways to deliver greater humanity in travel if Sharing

Economy practises remain illegal in the country. Furthermore, the emergence of Digital

Realities may create a future where real life connections have the potential to be

rendered obsolete.

The rise of Artificial Intelligence and use of Big Data within travel illustrate the growing

preference for personalisation, a feature the industry has been particularly aware

of at the top end of the market. This may lead to further decline in the demand for

standardised products when it is applied to the mainstream.

It is therefore possible that smaller tourism providers may have a future in which

they are no longer competing solely with other traditional suppliers in the same

segmentation, rather with the purveyors of personalised or new Digital Reality

experiences. To that extent, an ability to detect and adapt to shifting trends

pro-actively will likely be advantageous.



‘A startup is the largest group of people you can convince of a plan to build a different

future.’ (Thiel, 2014, p.10)

The startup approach may be said to be a distinctly democratic ‘idea’ as it pools

resources from a multitude of disciplines to find a breakthrough idea that is aimed at

delivering new customer value (Ries, 2011). To make a distinction, a startup is not:

‘An exact clone of an existing business, from business model, pricing, target consumer,

and product should not be conflated with a startup because its ambition and likelihood of

success is solely dependent on execution and not on innovation.’ (Ries, 2011, p28-29)

Therefore, it may be said that innovation belongs at the heart of every startup. Professor

Christensen suggests that the startup model’s success is the freedom from corporate

restraint to ask different questions of its customers than its incumbent competitors can,

which then allows startups to identify opportunities in line with shifting customer needs

(Christensen, 2016).

Fig. 7:

Startup Ecosystem,, no date


To encourage greater startup activity, many localised networks aimed at developing

startups have evolved, known as ‘Startup Ecosystems’. A typical ecosystem is formed of

startups in their various stages of growth, a variety of support organisations, and people

with specific expertise who interact to promote and sustain startup life, shown in Fig. 7.

A prominent example of an ecosystem is Silicon Valley, known to possess a set of unique

identifying characteristics that allow the various parties within its ecosystem to interact

and support one another (Haines, 2014). However, Silicon Valley’s exceptional rate

of success contrasts with large global variance within other ecosystems; sometimes

metropolitan areas within the same country exhibit large disparities in their ability to

create and sustain startup growth (Motoyama and Watkins, 2014). It can be shown that

almost all ecosystems are adapted for localisation (Malecki 1994), which may partially

explain the causality behind each ecosystem’s marked variance (Motoyama and Watkins,

2014). It has been suggested that Silicon Valley is not just a model, but a mindset for

innovation, yet within the startup communities of less developed countries there is

increasing evidence to show that a clone approach to innovation has limited success

(Haines, 2014).

Author and entrepreneur Ressi has identified two distinct trends in the evolution of

startup ecosystems in developing countries (Ressi, 2017):

1. The best results are driven from the bottom up approach, with grassroots efforts

being led by local startup founders.

2. Many developing countries have government funded innovation centres, delivering

top-down expertise and investment. This rarely creates lasting companies.


Thailand’s first startup meeting was convened in 2011 and attended by a handful of

people interested in sharing ideas about disrupting longstanding incumbents (Balea,

2016). Fig. 8 shows startups in Thailand received approximately USD 1 million in private

investment in 2011; by 2016, investment had grown to over USD 108 million and the

size of the startup community had grown 100 times its original size (Techsauce, 2016).

Further, the Thai government now assists its startup community with yearly capital

injections of USD 570 milllion to encourage young tech firms to grow Thailand’s digital

economy and the median value of funding deals in Thailand’s startup ecosystem will

have increased from approximately USD 60,000 in 2012 to USD 1.1 million in 2016

(Balea, 2016).


Fig. 8: Thailand Disclosed Startup Funding, Balea, 2016

Governmental investment in the Thai startup ecosystem is enhanced by tax exemptions

for venture capital firms, co-working spaces, and for startups themselves (Balea,

2016). Thailand even has a National Innovation Agency (Lee, 2017). However, startup

ecosystems benefit from many different key inputs, not least a wide availability of private

financing, which is a significant source of startup funding worldwide (Polapat Ark, 2017).

In order to interpret the relative strengths and weaknesses of Thailand’s ecosystem,

Table 1 illustrates how Thailand fares relative to other countries. For the purposes of a

worthy comparison, the United States as a mature Western ecosystem, coupled with two

other Asian ecosystems, China and Singapore, are examined:



No. of Startups in


Startup Density per


Venture Capital (VC)



~140,000 ~145,000 ~2000 ~600

1 per 2,300 1 per 9,500 1 per 2,800 1 per


~800 ~1000 ~50 ~12

2016 VC USD $69,100 MM $32,000 MM $3,500 MM $86 MM

2016 VC per Capita $212 $23 $625 $1.3

No. of Accelerators 200 1,600 52 7

Startups per


700:1 90:1 38:1 86:1

2016 No. of Exits 3,358 221 15 2

Exits as % of Startups 2.4% 0.2% 0.8% 0.3%

Table 1: Startup Ecosystem Comparison, Polapat Ark, 2017

It may be inferred through analysis of the table above that the Thai startup ecosystem

is under-performing relative to its neighbours, even allowing for population disparities.

Whilst superficially the requisite infrastructure is in place, the figures point to a deeper,

structural imbalance that merits further exploration.



Thailand has a vibrant entrepreneurial community, largely built around ‘Necessity

Entrepreneurship’ (Charoenrat, 2014), entrepreneurs in developing countries who start

small enterprises out of basic need and limited access to stable employment (Brewer &

Gibson, 2014). Despite this instinct, closing the innovation gap between an agricultural

economy and a knowledge based economy by government implemented innovation

policy alone is gaining relatively little traction (Bisonyabut and Kamsaeng, 2015), for

reasons Intarakumnerd attributes to:

‘Deep-rooted weakness and fragmentation of Thailand’s innovation system and a lack of a

clear and shared vision of policies; a lack of supporting institutions such as Shumpeterian

entrepreneurship and trust; and, most importantly, path dependency and inertia in

the policy formulation process due to the problem of being locked into old paradigms.’

(Intarakumnerd, 2015, p.15).

Consequently, this results in a low number of willing risk takers, a lack of Venture Capital

funding, few Incubators and Accelerators and limited opportunities for exit within the

Thai startup ecosystem (Polapat Ark, 2017). Further, this may explain why research

reveals relatively little awareness of modern innovation paradigms in Thailand.



Only 12 per cent of Thailand’s population is university educated, compared to 30-45

percent for both China and Singapore. Further, universities prioritise the business

schools and medicine over R&D and it is therefore difficult to penetrate the academic

curriculum, stunting the aspiration to innovate (Intarakumnerd, 2015).

Research and Development

Thailand spends only half a percent of its GDP on R&D, compared to 2-4 per cent spent

by China and Singapore (Bisonyabut and Kamsaeng, 2015).

Regulatory Environment

Thailand’s regulatory environment and innovation initiatives are misaligned, causing

bottlenecks that encourage foreign innovations, rather than indigenous efforts (Polapat

Ark, 2017) .


It is well documented that strategic behaviour differs across cultures (Scheneider, 1991).

The most widely accepted definition of national culture is that of Kluckhorn:

‘Culture consists in patterned ways of thinking, feeling, and reacting, acquired and

transmitted mainly by symbols, constituting the distinctive achievements of human

groups, including their embodiment in artefacts; the essential core of culture consists

of traditional ideas and especially their attached values.’

(Kluckhorn, as cited in Engelen et al, 2015, p.734)

Thailand is a latecomer in trying to adopt and implement a system of innovation, yet

this does not fully explain why it has been less successful in terms of catching up with

innovative forerunners (Engelen et al, 2015; Intarakumnerd and Chaminadeb, 2011).

Therefore, examining national culture’s effect on corporate culture may help identify

patterns of shared values and beliefs that inform organisational function (Schein 1983).

Hofstede suggests that cultures can be analysed in terms of six cultural dimensions,

along which each national culture is given a fixed indexing (Fang, 2009). Hofstede’s

cultural dimensions for Thailand reveal the following (Hofstede, 2016; Buriyameathagul,


Power/Distance Dimension:

Thailand is a society in which inequalities are accepted; a strict chain of command and

protocol exists between bosses and employees. Attitudes towards managers are more

formal, and information flows are hierarchical and controlled.


Individualism vs Collectivism:

Thai society constructs its reality based on social interests rather than individual

interests, characterised in Thailand by non-confrontation, with offence taking leading

to loss of face and shame.

Uncertainty Avoidance:

Thailand exhibits high levels of uncertainty avoidance. This leads to risk aversion and

resistance to change, with short-term and less strategic planning.

Masculinity vs Femininity:

Thailand has the lowest masculinity ranking among Asian societies, potentially

suggesting a society that has less competitiveness and assertiveness.

Long Term Orientation:

Thais exhibit great respect for traditions, a relatively small inclination to save for the

future, and a focus on achieving quick results.

Indulgence vs Restraint:

A preference on this dimension cannot be determined for Thailand.

Supporting Hofstede’s ‘High Uncertainty Avoidance’ dimension for Thailand, Table 2

shows that when people act outside of the home environment, Thais register amongst

the lowest trust in foreigners, those of different religions, and strangers anywhere in

the world, based on practical testing of Fukyuma’s finding of Thailand as a ‘Low Trust

Society’ (Ward et al, 2014). This may inadvertently influence Thai tourism innovation

efforts if the trend for greater humanity in travel has been correctly predicted.

Table 2: Interpersonal Trust in Asia, Ward et al, 2014

However, a less quantifiable component of Thai national culture’s potential effect on

business culture is that it places great emphasis on both fate and luck as determiners

of progress. This is demonstrated by extreme deference towards spirits, ghosts, and

ancestors, whose control over destiny is perceived as more influential than strategic

planning (Buriyameathagul, 2017).

These findings support the theory that entrepreneurial phenomena have been

influenced by national cultural characteristics in Thailand (Engelen et al, 2015) and

may therefore provide partial explanation as to why more recent innovation paradigms

in Thai business settings have so far not succeeded (Hayton et al, 2002).


The startup scene in Thailand’s unique characteristics have been influenced by

a confluence of factors; understanding these help contextualise the challenges

TakeMeTour have faced as they have grown. If a startup is a vision of the future, it is

probable that the relationship an individual, or even a collective, has with the past

will influence the lens through which that future is envisioned.


Thailand faces both structural and cultural challenges as it tries to shift from an

agricultural economy to a knowledge based one; its progress is inhibited by structural

factors, such as under investment in Research and Development, but also by a culture

that places the status quo as the imperative, exhibits strong risk aversion, and high

uncertainty avoidance. Research also suggests that greater efforts must be made at

a grassroots level to encourage more startup activity through appropriate venture capital

funding and mentorship as it is not sufficient for the government to keep directing funds

at innovation efforts in a top-down manner.

Whilst it is well known that Asian societies have steep power distance gradients,

Thailand is also a particularly low trust society relative to its Asian counterparts.

The impact low trust has on creating an environment conducive to innovation in

Thailand should be explored in expert interviews.





3.1 Interviews with Industry Experts

3.1.1 Meet the Experts

3.2 A Perspective on the Future of Travel

3.3 The Impact of Culture

3.4 Understanding Innovation

3.5 The Role of Trust

3.6 New Insights

3.7 Conclusions


Having consulted the literature, understanding if the findings intersect and apply in the

real world becomes the next stage of research. Industry Experts were interviewed for

deeper insight into the following emerging themes:

Cultural dimensions appear to have had a distinct influence on Thailand’s innovative

orientation, but to what extent are modern innovation paradigms understood and

applied in Thailand?

Are tourism providers concerned about emerging tourism trends and do they see a role

for Digital Realities, or do they believe that changes in the industry will be around

finding ways of creating greater humanity?

Thailand’s startup ecosystem appears to have many structural and cultural problems,

but how and where are these problems experienced by the people who operate within it?

Through open-ended, semi structured interviews exploring answers to the above

questions, it was also possible to elicit new insights, behaviours, and motives to begin

the formation of theory.


Innovation Expert. Gareth’s innovation experience

across multiple industries and cultures is valuable

for gaining insights and validating ideas about

approaching innovation in different cultures.


Futurist. Mike’s expertise in predicting how the

world is likely to change and how companies can

adapt is particularly helpful for a non-partisan view

of travel’s emerging trends.

CEO Appsmaker Store. Originally from the UK, now

based in Singapore, Richard has helped multiple

Asian travel startups launch platforms throughout

the region.

CEO VJV. Philip has founded several travel

companies since the 1970s that have redefined the

travel experience, which is helpful for understanding

historical travel behaviours and values.

CEO Tabika. Jun’s experience of the Activities

market in Japan allows an appreciation of the

wider challenges associated with this particular

segmentation in Asia, particularly as Tabika are

currently expanding in to Thailand.

CEO Hubba and TechSauce. Amongst the most

influential of Thailand’s startup founders, Amarit is

the ‘go-to’ man for a broad perspective on the Thai

startup ecosystem.


CEO MeRooms. Founder of a sharing economy

startup for Nomads in Thailand.

CEO TourKrub. TourKrub aims to address the

complexities of outbound travel from Thailand and

Far has a unique perspective as a startup addressing

Thailand’s internal market.


Two distinct trends were uncovered in the literature review about the future direction

of the experiences market in travel — one with deeper human connections, and another

where technology enhances, or even replaces them.

Mike Ryan believes that the advance of Digital Realties will eventually replace

mainstream tourism. In doing so, real life experiences will move towards a niche offering,

making the providers of those experiences the most ‘in demand’ sector (interview

M Ryan).

Conversely, Gareth Lymer suggests the impact of technology will increase, but only

to enable better planning of tourism experiences that allow us to escape our technology.

Although not directly involved in tourism, Gareth’s innovation experience has shown a

tendency towards “losing ourselves in a new technology” for a period of time, before an

equilibrium is found of where it correctly fits in people’s lives. To that extent, hardwired

human behaviours, such as a desire for human connections, will always be reverted back

to (interview G Lymer). However, both interviewees agree that personalisation in travel

will continue to increase, with the current top end of the market being an indication of

where democratisation into the mainstream will lead. This is persuasive because it

aligns with wider consumption habits already moving towards greater personalisation

(Zbik, 2017).

The CEO of TourKrub, Far Leeathiwat, reveals an alternative interpretation from within

the industry in Thailand. His work shows tourism becoming more segmented, therefore

the trend is towards greater choice of destinations and variety of activities to cater

for the seasonality of travel. Indeed, when the question of travel’s potential Digital

Realties future was posed, the perception at TourKrub is that people will always want to

physically travel as it allows them “to improve themselves and learn new things”;

digital simply helps people get the right experience in the cheapest and fastest ways

(interview F Leeathiwat). Both Far and Gareth identified the value of seeing a famous

picture in person, stating the experience of standing in front of and feeling the impact of

great artwork in real life as being irreplaceable (interviews F Leeathiwat and G Lymer).



According to Englen et al’s study on entrepreneurial orientation in Thailand, cultural

dimensions have influenced the development of Thailand’s innovative capabilities.

Amarit Charoenphan has found that traits such as risk aversion and lack of trust are

deeply ingrained in Thai culture, even leading to a mistrust of indigenous brands,

preferring instead to favour those established and proven abroad. He suggests that

in Thailand:

“There is no culture of accepting and embracing failure and ‘have another go’; a culture

of constantly learning and improving. Openness to new ideas, innovation — it’s all still

in the works here; it’s still hierarchical, old school and slow to adapt.”

(interview A Charoenphan)

Supawat Boom, Founder of MeRooms, echoes this sentiment and consequently

concludes that for his startup to succeed he cannot address Thailand’s internal market

as he is unsure if it can adapt and mature:

“The best hope is inbound tourism, collaboration with the established players or thinking

ahead about what people are coming to Bangkok for, building it and exiting when the big

players come in.” (interview S Boom)

This appears to have created a vicious circle as whilst the travel tech space in Thailand

has potential, the opportunities it offers for innovation are not yet being reaped (WTCC.

org; Russell, 2016). According to Richard Jones, much of what is currently generated

involves cloning established ideas, citing Grab Taxis in Thailand as a direct response

to Uber. Further, Richard’s work with companies in Asia generally reveals a widespread

cultural fear of failure that demands new concepts be proven elsewhere first (interview

R Jones). The founder of Tabika, Jun Ishikawa, operating in the same Activities

segmentation as TakeMeTour in Japan, has observed a similar reluctance to try new

things in his own country, citing a fear of making mistakes (interview J Ishikawa). These

insights complement the findings of Thailand’s low trust society status and its high

uncertainty avoidance (Ward et al, 2014; Hofstede, 2016). However, this cultural aspect

alone is not entirely responsible for Thailand’s innovative orientation, as Japan, whilst

exhibiting many similar cultural characteristics to Thailand, remains at the vanguard of

technological progress (Ready, 2015).

A compelling explanation of this divergence in Thailand was identified as beginning

in the education system, which is slow to adapt and discourages critical thinking

(Intarakumnerd, 2015). In practical terms, educational rote learning hampers innovation

efforts as people become accustomed to being told what to do, thereby creating a

dearth of ‘free thinkers’ (interview A Charoenphan).


A recurring theme amongst Thai leaders for Thailand’s lack of innovative prowess was

that ‘technology and coding subjects’ are not taught in schools. It appears there is a

sense in which Thailand perceives itself as being technologically behind, therefore

innovation efforts become disproportionately technology focussed. Typical of responses

when asking about mechanisms for detecting innovation opportunities was:

“We can see patterns of tours being purchased today versus last year, we can track habits.

Customer behaviour tracking; I can track everyone coming to our website.”

(interview F Leeathiwat)


Indeed, all Thai founders interviewed suggested their innovation would be directed by

exponential growth of data, customer research, and even focus groups. Little awareness

of human-centred design or the importance of an internally innovative culture was

apparent. When asking about an understanding of empathy, one interviewee responded

“I know the word empathy in English, but don’t know how important it is”. Moreover, it

was discovered that there is no direct word in Thai for empathy. This does not mean that

the faculty does not exist, rather awareness of it as a tool for innovation may be lacking

and that whilst data may be useful for innovation, opportunities for human progress are

as likely to come from observing and talking to people (interview G Lymer).

There is growing evidence of a strong contrast between Western and Thai understanding

of innovation, in particular where removal of barriers between hierarchies, emotions,

and structural norms is required (Weintreib and Rau, 2013). To that extent, Thailand’s

culture directly impacts the type of innovation it is suited to, not least because with

an established agricultural economic model, ‘new thinking’ is likely also threatening

thinking to many people (interview G Lymer and M Ryan).


Taking a historical perspective on travel innovation, there has always been a tendency

to create imitation products that compete only on price because new ideas are difficult

to protect against imitation, according to Philip Morrell. As a consequence, travel has to

create its differentiation through optimising trust in the brand:

“When you’re buying a travel package, you don’t buy tangibles. Trust is key. The name and

longstanding reputation is critical to establishing trust. Therefore travel startup and trust

are almost contradictory.” (interview P Morrell)

This is significant as the role of trust in a society translates into the ability of many

different stakeholders to interact and cooperate successfully (Diekhöner, 2017); to that

extent, only one Thai based interviewee revealed awareness of trust’s importance to

the travel experience, citing AirBnB’s intermediary model as making the “unthinkable

acceptable” (interview J Ishikawa).

Therefore, as a basic unit of exchange within tourism, as well as a requirement of an

innovative culture that embraces risk and failure, the role that trust plays is increasingly

being shown to be critical, contrasted by a developing theme of lack of trust within Thai

business settings (Ward et al, 2014).

Those who are aware of the work that needs to be done in Thailand express concern that

the country will be unable to reap the opportunities that tourism represents, suggesting

that hindering cultural aspects must be identified and addressed in new ways:

“We need to support local innovation, create a culture and movement to support Thai

founders and not only in Thailand.” (interview A Charoenphan)


Several unforeseen causality dilemmas are also at play. For example, there has not been

a visible startup success in the form of a Unicorn in Thailand (Russell, 2016). Were this to

happen, it was suggested that more innovative activity might be encouraged (interview

A Charoenphan). However, Thailand’s investors are not persuaded their internal market

is ready for the products and services the startup community want to deliver and so

private funding is scarce (interview A Charoenphan). A culture of risk aversion extends

even to Thai investors for whom it would be difficult to comprehend short term financial

loss, for long term profitability (interview A Charoenphan).


Cultural issues also emerge at a corporate interpersonal level in Thailand, where

behaviour can be ‘dramatic and easily agitated’, with passive aggressiveness leading

to a breakdown of effective communication, likely due frustration at an inablity to

challenge authority (Hofstede, 2016; interview S Boom).

“I have to show my staff my commitment so that hopefully they will reciprocate. I don’t

always feel like I can rely on my staff, so it appears I’m micro-managing.”

(interview S Boom)

Conversely, issues surrounding regulatory obstacles appear to be less of a concern;

it is widely perceived that even if bans are enforced on sharing economy practises

(Guttentag, 2013) the government often displays a ‘turn a blind eye’ attitude to

enforcing it and that there is always a way around regulations (interviews S Boom

and A Chareonphan). To some extent, this may indicate a certain level of risk at which

operators in Thailand are comfortable.

Finally, income inequality in Thailand renders the internal market small and therefore

only able to capture the relatively few middle to high income earners in the country,

supporting a growing theme that Thailand’s best tourism innovation hope may be

to address its inbound market (interview with S Boom).


It is apparent that many barriers to innovation exist in Thailand and that these issues

are interconnected and deeply culturally entrenched. From only a small selection of

interviewees the data is insufficient from which to draw precise theory. However,

there are points of overlap between the insights from the literature review and the

experts’ perspectives that help answer the central questions of this research project:

1. In light of Digital Realities’ complexity and expense (Evans, 2017), as well as

seemingly minimal tourism industry concern about its impact, the argument that

travel’s future is increasingly about creating greater human connection is persuasive

because as Gareth Lymer observes, connecting with other humans is ‘a hard wired

human trait to which we will always revert back’. This also aligns with MacCannell’s

observation from 1973 about a tourist’s desire to experience authenticity, with

little evidence to suggest that instinct changing since it was observed 50 years ago

(MacCannell, 1973).

2. The role of corporate culture on innovation in Thailand is emerging as even

more important than the Literature Review suggests, highlighted by experience

of dysfunctional interpersonal relationships at work by Thai Experts. This is likely

explained through Hofstede’s cultural dimensions, particularly across the Power/

Distance relationship and the Uncertainty Avoidance dimensions, and is supported

by Englen et al’s work suggesting that entrepreneurial orientation in Thailand is also

influenced by national cultural characteristics (Englen et al, 2015).

3. Whilst there is awareness of differences in innovative outcomes between

Thailand and Western countries, Thai interviewees revealed little knowledge of

modern pillars of innovation, whilst those experts consulted outside of Thailand

support the literature review’s findings of empathy and trust as units of value in

innovation (Diekhöner, 2017). According to Hayton et al, previous Western innovation

paradigms have not succeeded in Thailand, which may suggest an alternative

approach involving localisation could be helpful for future efforts (Hayton et al, 2002).






4.1 Why AirBnB is Innovative

4.2 How AirBnB Innovate

4.3 Translating Values into Actions

4.4 Insights

Following the insights from both the Literature Review and Expert Interviews, the

role of culture in Thai startup settings is emerging as far more important to Thailand’s

innovative orientation than first anticipated. Before introducing TakeMeTour, it is helpful

to look outside of the Thai startup ecosystem to a strongly culture-led, innovative

tourism company and gather insights that may be transferred to TakeMeTour. The

purpose of this is not to clone, rather to inform and complement this project’s ability

to help TakeMeTour innovate effectively.

AirBnB is amongst the world’s most recognisable travel brands, credited with having

disrupted the accommodation vertical of travel (Gallagher, 2017; Varma et al, 2016).

Further, AirBnB have recently enhanced their host/guest relationship through a newly

launched Activities service called ‘Trips’ in the Thai market, an almost identical product

to TakeMeTour’s (Ting, 2017).

This may be significant for TakeMeTour as if a trend of personalised, more intimate

human experiences has been correctly predicted, they now face direct competition from

a brand that has already established trust in a peer-to-peer market place and whose

reach extends to 191 countries globally (Ting, 2017;, 2016). Therefore, it is

useful to identify the ways in which AirBnB have developed the innovative capabilities

to continually deliver new value that has allowed them to grow their brand.


According to Varma et al, AirBnB’s rapid growth can be attributed to having identified

a globally pervasive problem in the accommodation sector, with the deployment of

innovative web-based processes to facilitate continuous innovation that allows its

customers to act entrepreneurially in a peer-to-peer environment (Varma et al, 2016).

Therefore, it is arguable that AirBnB have met the innovative test on two counts: using

technology as an innovation enabler and facilitating human progress (Diekhöner, 2017,

Christensen, 2016). Notwithstanding previously mentioned regulatory issues in Thailand

with the sharing economy (Guttentag, 2013), it has been said that AirBnB has disrupted

the way the industry operates to the extent that it is unlikely that the tourism industry

can revert back to its old model (Varma et al, 2016). Further, according to Joe Zadeh,

the Vice President of ‘Trips’ at AirBnB, AirBnB now intend to use their established brand

awareness to expand into, and innovate within every travel vertical (Kennedy, 2017).



The founders of AirBnB began the company through identifying a solution to a problem

they had experienced in their own lives (Gallagher, 2017). Through an understanding

of the difficulty hosts had previously faced in advertising their spare rooms, combined

with the struggle of establishing the needed trust between hosts and guests, AirBnB

cultivated a human-centred response to a longstanding problem in tourism (Guttentag,

2013). Whilst it is undoubtedly true that AirBnB continue to harness the power of

technology and invest in the processes and resources to support it, according to the

founders, key to AirBnB’s continuing innovative success is having a clearly defined

mission (Chesky, 2014). Further, by living a set of values that support that mission,

AirBnB have been able to build a culture of trust and openness amongst employees that

creates the foundation for future innovation (Chesky, 2014). The mission of ‘Belong

Anywhere’ (Fig. 9) and the values that support it are published on AirBnB’s website

(, no date):

‘No global movement springs from individuals. It takes an entire team united behind

something big. Together, we work hard, we laugh a lot, we brainstorm nonstop, we use

hundreds of Post-Its a week, and we give the best high-fives in town.’

Be a Host

Care for others and make them feel like they belong. Encourage others to participate to their

fullest. Listen, communicate openly and set clear expectations.

Champion the Mission

Prioritise work that advances the mission and positively impacts the community. Build with

the long-term in mind. Actively participate in the community and culture.

Be a Cereal Entrepreneur

Be bold and apply original thinking. Imagine the ideal outcome. Be resourceful to make the

outcome a reality.

Embrace the Adventure

Be curious, ask for help, and demonstrate an ability to grow. Own and learn from mistakes.

Bring joy and optimism to work.


Fig. 9: ‘Belong Anywhere’,, no date


Mark Levy, AirBnb’s head of Employee Experience states that these values belong in the

‘hearts and minds’ of employees, rather than on the walls (Levy, as cited in Clune, 2017).

To that extent, AirBnB bring these values to life through the following practises:


AirBnB’s culture is underpinned by a belief in honest, two-way communication (Clune,

2017). Born out of the results of a Culture Amp survey, the company realised it needed

to create and enable a two-way dialogue to better promote the sharing of ideas.

Founder Joe Gebbia’s idea was to use the metaphorical Elephants, Dead Fish and Vomit

to open up dialogue. Elephants describe the big things that people are reluctant to

discuss, Dead Fish refer to unresolved issues, and Vomit are those things that

employees need to get off their chest (Clune, 2017).


Referred to by Mark Levy as the company’s secret sauce, ‘Ground Control’ aims to bring

AirBnB’s global travel mindset and mission to life by creating the internal ‘belonging’

that enables employees to form a group that can stay together as they progress through

their careers (Clune, 2017). This team is dedicated to looking after the workplace

environment, internal communications, employee recognition, celebration and events.


AirBnB hold regular global employee conferences to break-down barriers and encourage

integration of their community. The conferences not only focus on the company’s future,

but their people and development, as well as exploring ways in which they might better

work together (Clune, 2017).


It is apparent that AirBnB’s innovative capabilities are linked to a culture that promotes

experimentation, flexibility, and radical new ideas. Further, that culture is effective

because it has been defined by the founders of the business and is predicated on

practising internally what they want to achieve externally.

Little distinction is made in literature between AirBnB’s processes and its culture, which

supports Tellis et al and Weintraub and Rau’s findings from the Literature Review of

corporate culture’s importance as a driver of radical innovation. Further, as Weintraub

and Rau assert, of the 6 blocks of innovative culture, arguably AirBnB have prioritised

the less quantifiable blocks of values, behaviours, and climate, which have facilitated

the creation of a company that has innovation at its core.

Central themes of trust, empathy, two-way communication, and a well defined

mission emerge as hallmarks of a company whose stated ambition is to redefine every

layer of the travel experience.




5.1 Who are TakeMeTour?

5.2 The Perspective of the Founders

5.3 The Future for TakeMeTour

5.4 The Competition

5.5 My Insights

5.6 Defining the Challenge


Founded in 2012 by Taro Amornched, a former Google software engineer, and Noppon

Anukunwithaya, an industrial engineer with Ajinomoto, TakeMeTour began life as a

startup aiming to connect Thai travellers with Thai students living abroad who could

then act as tour guides. As a niche business this initially performed well, but with little

scope for scalability, the product was reversed in 2012 to address inbound tourism to

Thailand instead. TakeMeTour has created a Sharing Economy marketplace where locals

can suggest a tour itinerary, upload it to TakeMeTour’s website and invite guests to

experience Thailand ‘through the eyes of a local’ (

TakeMeTour has benefitted from a number of Thailand’s startup ecosystem facilities,

including venture capital from 500 TukTuks (Thailand’s largest VC for startups),

mentorship through the DTAC Accelerate programme and a cash investment from Thai

billionaire Ittipat Peeradechapan. These influences have helped TakeMeTour become

Thailand’s largest single marketplace for one day tours ( To date,

they have over 10,000 registered Local Experts (guides) and cover 55 cities in Thailand.

With a team of 10, they’re led by the founders, a CTO with two developers, as well as

a customer support and graphic design team.


According to the founders, the philosophy behind conducting tours in this way is

explained by the following (interview N Anukunwithaya):

• ‘To connect the global with the local’

• ‘Distribute the engagement and profits of tourism’

• ‘Elevate the travel experience’

However, the company has reached a point in their growth where their ambitions to

scale are affected by a number of previously identified factors. In order to gain a better

understanding of the company’s perception of itself and its vision for the future,

I conducted interviews with the CEOs, synthesised below.


TakeMeTour has enjoyed exponential growth since its inception, this year alone carrying

ten times more people than the previous year. This has been attributed to strong dataled

improvements to the platform, and a deep focus on SEO and online advertising.

They operate in promising territory as their value proposition aligns with the Thai

government’s strategy of ‘distribution of tourism’, placing an emphasis on helping

second tier cities to develop outside of traditional tourism destinations in Thailand

(interview N Anukunwithaya).

However, the regulatory environment surrounding these experiences remains

ambiguous and although the company is trying to work with the government to change

the licensing structure for guides, progress remains slow. Further obstacles arise more

generally when trying to bring new tourism products to new destinations in Thailand as

it requires costly research that once developed is easily copiable as no regulation exists

to protect Intellectual Property. This in turn leads to agencies being reluctant to create

new tourism products or services (interview N Anukunwithaya).

To address this would require better education and governance in Thailand and

co-operation by the authorities to change regulation by traditional law, which officials

are reluctant to consider out of systemic protectionism. However, citing a speech by

Joe Gebbia, one of the founders of AirBnB, TakeMeTour subscribe to the belief that

the Sharing Economy is irreversible, therefore meaning that regulatory authorities

will eventually adapt (interview N Anukunwithaya).

TakeMeTour believe part of the reason for slower progress in less developed countries,

such as Thailand, is that people are less adaptive generally and when it comes to change

they look for acceptance through following the crowd. Further, Thai culture is generally

reserved and shy, which indirectly affects how much traction a new product or idea can

gain through early adoption reluctance (interview with T Amornched).


There is a perception that fragmentation of the market currently allows local players

to be strong, but brings with it a challenge of scaleability. Even with unlimited money,

it would still be difficult to expand out of Thailand because of differences in language

and cultures. Therefore, TakeMeTour identify partnerships as a potential way forward

(interview T Amornched).

In relation to the future of tourism and where the company’s innovation capabilities

will come from, successful use of data is seen to be key. However, they also acknowledge

that this is often problematic for smaller travel companies who do not have access to

the data Google or Amadeus collect (interview T Amornched).


With regard to the advance of nascent experience technologies that could potentially

compete with their core offering, TakeMeTour’s interpretation is it is not clear how VR

is going to affect the travel industry, if it can be monetised or whether travellers will

even want to use it (interview N Anukunwithaya). Therefore, the emphasis appears to

be on focussing attention and resources firmly on their market segmentation of real

life ‘experiences’. Consequently, the main growth emphasis for the company remains

funding to expand the company’s reach. However, in order to achieve that funding,

the market requires education and awareness that this new facility exists

(interview T Amornched).


The Activities market in which TakeMeTour operates is perceived as being historically

characterised by a reluctance to try new things, although this may be changing,

particularly in developed countries. Fortunately, in this regard they believe they have

been positively affected by AirBnB’s new ‘Trips’ offering, as it is perceived that AirBnB’s

brand influence can do some of the market education for them. In much the same way

as the collective tourism mentality has normalised going to a new city and searching

AirBnB for accommodation with a local, the ambition is now to educate the market to

arrive in a new city and browse experiences with locals too. Therefore, the competition

space with AirBnB is so far believed to be a beneficial one as their brand presence can

elevate the market TakeMeTour plays in (interview T Amornched).


TakeMeTour has enjoyed success through the creation of new value within Thai tourism.

However, this may now be challenged through the emergence of alternative, established

players with similar offerings in the Thai market. Whilst TakeMeTour may not currently

be concerned about the direct threat of AirBnB, they are positioned in a competitive

tourism segment where 30 percent of Activities companies globally generate less than

$50,000 a year in revenue (Ting 2017). The arrival of AirBnB ‘Trips’ in Thailand is likely

more significant for TakeMeTour than they perceive as they will have to compete with a

company that has established trust in a marketplace where intellectual property is easily

replicated and who have the ability to directly up-sell to their activites offerings to their

‘Homes’ audience.

Fig. 10: Vertical Progress, Thiel, 2014


Therefore, it is critical that TakeMeTour have the tools to detect Fig. 10’s opportunities

for Vertical Progress to do new things as a point of differentiation if they are to grow

alongside one of the world’s most recognisable brands (Thiel, 2014).

In terms of a company culture, I have observed features of a startup environment that

would be familiar to those associated with a startup in a Western context, yet I have also

recognised some of the obstacles to managing staff highlighted in previous chapters.

For example, there is an open plan office where the founders and the team all sit, flexible

working hours, and occasional ‘breakout’ sessions to discuss projects. However, there

is little by way of a defined culture and promotion of dialogue between and across


Through the Literature Review, Expert Interviews, and the perspective of the founders,

distinct patterns emerge about the future of travel and the necessary direction for the

company to direct its innovation efforts towards.

The purpose of this research project is to help TakeMeTour gain a competitive advantage

by being able to better detect opportunities for innovation specific to their tourism

segment and within their local context. In this regard, the following three company

insights are particularly helpful in leading towards the ultimate challenge statement:

• There is a strong bias towards tech and big data as the primary vehicle

for innovation.

• There is a need to form partnerships as part of their growth strategy.

• More established international sharing economy platforms are moving

in to their market space.


Certain insights from the research align with how TakeMeTour understand their context,

yet there are other areas in which they may benefit from a new perspective. Before

defining further it is helpful to establish a hierarchy to the findings (Underwood, 2015):

• Internal management’s view of the future issues is usually the least accurate.

• The data-mined view of the future based prior to interviewing the experts is

usually more accurate.

• The experts’ view of the future is usually the most accurate.

Applying this hierarchy reveals two core themes that help shape the ultimate challenge:

1. All travel firms are trust intermediaries, particularly those operating in the

sharing economy where the providers’ platforms allow trust to be realised as a

unit of value (Diekhöner, 2017). Further, it can be shown that trust is an important

competitive advantage in tourism (interview P Morrell). Thailand is a low trust

society, which may be problematic for TakeMeTour’s long term prospects as growth

and an ability to compete are conditioned by the level of trust inherent in a society

(Diekhöner, 2017). Further, awareness of trust as a unit of value appeared to be low

whilst interviewing Thai experts, which could potentially be obstructive if attempting

to form partnerships to grow a business, or if an Open Innovation approach is to be

adopted to encourage the sharing of ideas with other companies (Chesbrough, 2003).


2. Research also shows that whilst efforts are made by startups in Thailand to harvest

Big Data and prioritise tech, there is little awareness that this reveals what it is people

are doing, not necessarily why. Dealing with customers only as data points may lead

to missing an opportunity to understand a problem and designing a solution through

detailed observation of people in the context in which they will be using a service

(Hilton, 2016). In a particularly human pursuit such as travel, empathy aids innovation

as it allows businesses to uncover, create, and integrate around what it is a customer is

trying to get done through the understanding of behaviour (Christensen, 2016).

Given the intrinsic value of a travel company is trust, and that both trust and empathy

are necessary components of the innovation process, due to low awareness of both of

these in Thailand, the challenge for this project is defined as follows:






6.1 Designing a Response to the Challenge

6.2 Building a Culture of Trust & Empathy at TakeMeTour

6.2.1 Re-establish a Purpose

6.2.2 The Four Pillars of Trust & Empathy at TakeMeTour

6.3 Turning Trust & Empathy into Innovative Value

6.3.1 Maximise Value Through the Trust Model

6.3.2 Applying Empathy as a Tool for Innovation


The following recommendations have been designed in response to the challenges

identified in my first two months at TakeMeTour. Hofstede shows that in Thailand it is

customary to build relationships before business is discussed ( To that

extent, the design and testing of these recommendations has coincided with the point at

which I observed sufficient progress had been made in my relationship with TakeMeTour

that recommendations and feedback could be delivered in a non-threatening manner.

At the beginning of the project I had expected the intervention to be focussed around

strategies for tourism innovation. However, research has shown cultural and behavioural

factors in Thailand are equally important to influence if innovation strategies are to be

implemented successfully. For example, the strict chain of command and steep power

distance gradient is a well documented feature of Thai working culture (Engelen et

al, 2015). I had expected this to manifest in a highly focussed work ethic, however, it

appears instead to lead to dysfunctions in communication across all organisational

levels, resulting in the diminished productivity Thai experts had highlighted.

It is important to acknowledge that previous implementations of Western innovation

paradigms in Thailand have had limited success. Therefore, internal recommendations

for enhancing team culture, followed by localised strategic recommendations to

build upon that culture have been suggested. The philosophy behind this is that for the

strategic innovation measures to be congruent, they must first be understood and

practised between the people using them. There were two stages to the introduction

of these recommendations: the cultural recommendations and practises were

introduced through a presentation I delivered to the whole team. One month later,

I presented the founders with all my findings and strategic recommendations, followed

by a discussion about those findings.




‘Company culture doesn’t exist apart from the company itself; no company has a culture,

every company IS a culture.’ (Thiel, 2014, p119)


Following a preliminary discussion with the founders, it was agreed that it would be

helpful to reassess the culture at TakeMeTour to improve working practises. I had

observed interpersonal relations and communications amongst the team were isolating

around job specifications. Further, it was arguable TakeMeTour was lacking a clearly

defined purpose and the values to support it internally. It is important to emphasise

that I initiated and facilitated this process, but the vision belongs to the founders.

Peter Thiel states that a founding moment only happens once and therefore it is only

at inception that there is the opportunity to set the rules that will align people toward

the creation of value in the future (Thiel, 2014). However, given the uncertainty at the

beginning of a startup’s life, revisiting the founding principles as the startup matures into

a viable business may be necessary (Ries, 2011). Therefore, as TakeMeTour grows and

new members join the team, it is critical to have a narrative that gives context, meaning,

and direction. This will establish a clear vision of what the company wants to achieve

and the culture it requires to support it.

In response to this challenge, a Culture Canvas (Fig. 11) was curated, because its

purpose is to help explore, model and describe a viable culture and to assess whether

there is a product-culture fit (Munoz, no date).

Fig. 11: Culture Canvas, Munoz, no date


Through discussions, ideation, and several iterations, the identification of goals, roles,

and rules leading to 5 values that define TakeMeTour’s vision for travel emerged:

• Internationalist Mindset

• Sharing & Caring Culture

• Be a Pirate

• Being Better

• Sense of Ownership

Purpose and Impact: ‘To tell the stories of Thailand’.

Defining TakeMeTour’s internal culture in this way can be an asset as they are now

playing against other culture driven, high-performing travel companies, such as AirBnB

(Clune, 2017). It is intended that a similar approach can encourage the commitment from

TakeMeTour’s staff it will require for growth. These values are not static and must

be reaffirmed as the company matures and I have implored the founders to continue to

use the Culture Canvas to do this.

With the interconnected values and purpose of TakeMeTour established, the next step is

the introduction of tools to promote open dialogue, understanding, and acceptance to

take the values from statements to practices.


For TakeMeTour to be able to better accept risk in strategic decision making, it is

important to create awareness of Trust and Empathy as basic pillars of exchange

across hierarchies. This is so no ‘loss of face’ or confrontation arises from failure, thus

promoting an environment in which new ideas may be explored safely

(Engelen et al, 2015).

Guidelines and activities from the Hyper Island Tool Kit have been ‘hacked’ for

localisation purposes that acknowledge that many of these principles are helpful for

developing TakeMeTour’s Trust culture, yet & are Empathy likely counter-intuitive Pillars

in Thailand. These have

been introduced gradually, and in some cases to support existing company activities

such as ‘Thank God It’s Friday’. It is anticipated that as these become embedded in

the culture, they may be enhanced or supplemented with other layers of team and

individual communication as colleagues grow more comfortable.

Trust & Empathy Pillars

Checkins & Checkouts


1.Checkins and Checkouts. A simple, non threatening way to begin the process of

learning to facilitate dialogue and display feelings (Hyper Island Toolkit). Initially this

started by asking each team member to describe a feeling by ‘the animal that represents

my mood today’.



& Checkouts

Once the initial awkwardness of displaying feelings was diminished, newer subjects were

brought in, such as ‘how we felt about what we’d achieved the day before’ with each

team member eventually taking it in turn to choose the subject.









2. Reflections. Building upon the Checkins and Checkouts, Reflection was introduced

as a tool to help deepen the expression of thoughts, feelings and opinions about shared

experiences, with the ambition of building greater openness and trust into the team

(Hyper Island Toolkit). This was introduced as part of a talk I delivered on International


Thank God it’s Friday!

Mindset and Sharing & Caring Culture. I had noticed that there was a reluctance

initially to share deep feelings, however, leading by example, tentatively progress

was made. Crucially, reflections encourage the use of ‘speaking from the I’, which

is designed to encourage alternatives to passive aggressive behaviour.

Checkins Reflections & Checkouts

This will be something I will encourage AT THE 5 X END the PER founders OF WEEK PROJECTS to continue to participate in so

as it becomes an integral

part of the company function.

Reflections Feedback



3. Feedback. Once communication between colleagues had begun to relax through

Checkins and Reflections, Feedback was introduced as a tool through which building

constructive relationships and functional teams can be achieved (Hyper Island Toolkit).

The use of feedback promotes self-awareness and insight, and is also an important tool

for promoting and harnessing change (Geister et al, 2006). As there are many different

levels of feedback (Geister


et al, 2006),

God Feedback

‘I appreciate’

it’s Friday!

is chosen to promote gratitude

and curiosity amongst “ONE one another until such time as critique of performance is ready







to be introduced (Hyper Island Toolkit).

Thank God it’s Friday!


4. Thank God It’s Friday! Adapting a company tradition of a group activity on a Friday

night, usually involving playing a board game, TGIF is evolving to be led by a different

member of the team each week, talking about something important to them and their

feelings in relation to it. This could be a book, a film, an occasion, or even a piece of

music. Following the talk, an opportunity for both those listening and the person who

delivered the talk flows in to a reflection. The purpose here is to encourage deeper

displays of emotion about interests and passions from outside of the work environment.




Practising Checkins for the first time


Delivery of the values to support the new TakeMeTour culture


Delivering a talk on International Mindset to the team




As an inbound tour operator it is critical that TakeMeTour understand the value of

trustworthiness that its brand must communicate. In the U.K., a sizeable portion of

TakeMeTour’s customer demographic, preference for trusted brands is growing, with a

study in 2016 reflecting that 31% of Millennials will only buy from trusted brands (GFK,

2017). This behaviour is accentuated in the travel sector, attributable to concerns about

personal safety and security around global political instability (GFK, 2017).

TakeMeTour currently use social media and review sites to build awareness of their

brand, encouraging customers to interact with and buy from them through ‘free’

channels. However, such relationships are transactional and momentary (Diekhöner,

2017). Without a solid layer of trustworthiness being created immediately, TakeMeTour

may struggle to create the strong brand equity from which their proposition can move

from Startup to Innovator (Table 3), particularly as established players move in to their

market (Diekhöner, 2017).

Table 3: Brand Equity and Perception, Diekhöner, 2017, p.83

By applying the Trust Model, TakeMeTour can methodically integrate greater trust

into their value proposition. Further, collaborative commercial behaviour, such as

open innovation, is stimulated by perception of trust existing between a company and

its customers, particularly relevant in the democratisation of innovation processes

(Diekhöner, 2017).


The Trust Model, Table 4, comprises 3 Proactive steps and 3 Reactive steps that

should be passed through in order to maximise trust as a unit of value in a brand

(Diekhöner, 2017).

Although the Trust Model comprises 6 stages, Diekhöner states that successful

companies will excel in one particular area. Therefore, companies should identify

which stage is most appropriate to the value they aim to create (Diekhöner, 2017).

At the outset, this project was about identifying ways in which the travel industry might

become more proactive in its innovation efforts. By beginning this process with a focus

on Stage 1, a proactive foundation through which strong brand equity can be built may

be established.


Table 4: The Trust Model, Diekhöner, 2017, p.46


Radically focus TakeMeTour’s offering

Focus on being exceptional at one thing rather than creating variety for mass appeal.

e.g. It may be better to focus on doing 40 tours with personalisable, unique value than 400

standardised tours.

Simplify TakeMeTour’s value proposition

As attention spans have become shorter, having an easily understood value proposition

makes it easy for people to choose TakeMeTour.

e.g. Focus on promoting the value of the Local Expert and unique insights they can provide.

Put authenticity above all else

Define TakeMeTour by the things the company genuinely cares about.

e.g. Creating friendships between people that otherwise would not meet.



‘People do not want a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter inch hole.’

– (Theodore Levitt, as cited in Christensen, 2016, p.177)

Jobs Theory posits that companies don’t sell products and services to customers,

rather they help people address jobs they’re attempting to get done (Christensen,

2016). This is useful for TakeMeTour as it can help the company to innovate

according to underlying needs within travel, rather than simply asking travellers

what they think they want, or relying exclusively on data (Wunker, 2012). By making

‘the job’ the unit of analysis, it is possible for TakeMeTour to achieve predictable

growth, as opposed to leaving innovation to chance, and thereby gain a competitive

advantage (Ulwick, 2017).

Jobs Theory requires the use of empathy to identify the set of circumstances that

would compel a traveller to use a TakeMeTour service over someone else’s in the

first instance (Alkabie, 2017). In order to develop greater awareness of the power

of empathy, Table 5 shows Jobs Theory can be broken down in to an innovation

practise (Ulwick, 2017):


Table 5: Christensen, 2016, p.129


The Jobs-To-Be-Done Discovery framework (Fig. 12) can help TakeMeTour begin

to identify undiscovered jobs by asking a specific set of questions. This may

be particularly useful for identifying new areas in which to grow their existing

business, or for adaptability in the shifting tourism landscape (Ulwick, 2017).

The purpose of asking these questions is that it requires looking in to people’s

lives to spot deeply personal struggles (Christensen, 2016).


Fig. 12: JTBD Discovery Framework, Ulwick, 2017


Once a Job-To-Be-Done has been discovered (by exploring travellers’ needs using

Fig. 12), TakeMeTour can deconstruct that job into 8 specific steps through the job

Map in Fig. 13, explained through Table 6 below. The purpose is not to discover how

a customer is currently getting a job done, rather what must happen at each stage

in order for the job to be carried out successfully (Ulwick, 2017).

Fig. 13: The Job Map,, no date


Table 6: The TakeMeTour Job Map,, no date


7.1 Feedback

7.2 Interpreting the Feedback

7.2.1 Greater Awareness of Trust?

7.2.3 Greater Awareness of Empathy?

7.3 Iterations

7.4 Conclusion


Following delivery of all the recommendations, critical feedback was requested from

the founders. Feedback was also requested from team members on the culture changes.

The full transcripts are available in the appendix, however, extracts containing the most

useful insights are analysed below.


The challenge for this project was to raise awareness of trust and empathy as units of

innovative value at TakeMeTour. The intervention suggested ways in which TakeMeTour

could improve its internal culture to support innovation strategies that built trust and

empathy into their core offering. Pleasingly, the founders and the team were receptive

to a new perspective and grateful for practical suggestions to aid their implementation.


The importance of trust appears to have been understood as crucial to enhancing the

perception of TakeMeTour’s credibility as a tour operator:

‘Trust is critical is what we totally agree and keep improving this in many perspectives.’

(Noppon, CEO TakeMeTour)

‘The recommendation on building trust & add empathy element to the innovation are

something I think it’s very interesting. I’ll follow-up closely and make sure we take that

into account when developing a new idea.’ (Taro, CEO TakeMeTour)

The practical step of focussing on Diekhöner’s suggestion of ‘being exceptional at one

thing’ was also well received, largely because it is a tangible way to define what it is

TakeMeTour are associated with in their market. However, the more nebulous value

of trust in a culture that embraces failure as a necessary component of innovation, or

trust’s importance in enhancing multiple party collaboration has not been referenced.

Despite feedback suggesting the team’s willingness to engage in the ‘4 Pillars of Trust

and Empathy at TakeMeTour’, appreciating how those internal habits can be turned into

innovative value externally may require further work to penetrate entrenched cultural

attitudes and behaviours.


An appreciation of the value in identifying a traveller’s desire for progress through

empathy has brought about awareness that innovation in travel does not have to be

predicated exclusively on technology:


‘When people talk about innovation, it’s often referred to technology. Innovation is

more than that. What this study suggests is to innovate each step of customer flow by

empathising, understanding, and offering new solution.’ (Noppon, CEO TakeMeTour)

However, the feedback does still reference the use of machine learning/AI, raising the

question of whether the use of empathy is appreciated as a mechanism through which

innovation opportunities can be detected before machine learning becomes relevant:

‘Instead of limit the offering to only few trips, we may create an innovative solution (e.g.

using Machine Learning) to display a different set of trips to a different user. [….] what

we’ll be trying to do here is to create a scalable approach to what we are good at. This is

because the experiences that people want could be subjective.’ (Taro, CEO TakeMeTour)

It is true that the personal and diverse nature of travel means that there will always

be a degree of subjectivity in choice; acknowledgement of this demonstrates

TakeMeTour are aware of their customers’ behaviours. However, greater emphasis

on the use of technology as a supporting mechanism for innovation may need to

be considered to galvanise a more human-centred approach in the future.

Therefore, if this project has successfully revealed an alternative perspective for the

stimulation of innovation at TakeMeTour, it remains to be seen whether that awareness

is sufficient to meaningfully and sustainably promote ‘new thinking’.


Having analysed the feedback and identified opportunities for refining the

recommendations, TakeMeTour may benefit from a modified approach in the

following ways:

1. A greater emphasis on understanding the primacy of culture. To guard against

cloning, making a direct comparison between AirBnB and TakeMeTour was avoided

as part of the recommendations. However, it is arguable that presentation of a case

study of AirBnB, or another highly culture led company, may have better validated the

value of company culture, particularly as previous commentators had suggested new

ideas in Asia must be proven elsewhere first. Whilst the practice of the suggested tools

has been embraced, the feedback does not reference a deeper understanding of why

and how these lead to better innovation, likely endorsing previous research findings of

national cultural characteristics’ influence on innovative orientation. Therefore, I have

provided my research and findings to the founders about AirBnB’s innovative culture

to share with the team during a ‘Thank God It’s Friday’ session, in order to reinforce

the purpose behind the tools.

2. Supplementary empathy based tools. To highlight the importance of a humancentric,

empathy driven response to innovation, Jobs To Be Done was recommended

to TakeMeTour as it has been both conceptually and practically proven academically.

However, on reflection of the feedback, it is wise to acknowledge that as an unfamiliar

concept, Jobs Theory requires practise, not only awareness. The bridge between

generating the necessary internal culture to promote empathy and turning that into

innovative value may be enhanced through a practical workshop on Jobs To Be Done.

Alternatively, introduction of tools such as Design Thinking or Customer Journey

Mapping, neither of which were used by the Company, may also be useful for a

practical application of empathy.


I began this project with little knowledge of what I might find at TakeMeTour. Although

I have a background in travel and have previously visited Thailand, the learning curve

was steep. As far as I am aware, this is the first time a Hyper Island student has worked

with Hyper Island methodology in a Thai business setting.


Despite Thailand’s tourism tech space potential, the country is beset with interlaced

structural and cultural issues that cannot be bypassed or underestimated by well

meaning non-native attempts to help. Therefore, this project has hopefully begun a

conversation that can reframe the focus of TakeMeTour’s efforts to scale, whilst also

raising internal awareness of the importance of cultural issues as perceived by someone

not associated with the Thai startup ecosystem. The solutions to these challenges will

take much more than foreign intervention; they will need to be determinedly led by

local, grassroots efforts to transform the status quo. Many of the issues highlighted

through this project are unlikely to be resolved soon, but through enhancing awareness,

they may to some extent be legislated for.

Tourism habits continually evolve, yet the fundamental human instinct to travel appears

to remain constant. In answering this project’s original question of how the industry in

Thailand might become more proactive in detecting opportunities to innovate, arguably

tourism providers should start by being tourists themselves and design accordingly.

I would like to conclude by saying I have had a rare and privileged insight into a very

different way of approaching business. Through this project I now better understand the

imperative to innovate in tourism. I have also experienced the value of cultural exchange,

not least because the contrast obliges both parties to challenge their own assumptions.

Tourism reminds us that in a deeply digital world there is still tremendous power in

connecting with our common humanity. It is hoped that this project will have enhanced

ways in which TakeMeTour can continually innovate their way to delivering this as

they grow.



Transcripts available on request

Interview with Mike Ryan, Futurist

Conducted by Marc Morrell, 7 August 2017

Interview with Amarit Charoenphan, CEO Hubba

Conducted by Marc Morrell, 1 September, 2017

Interview with Boom Supawat, CEO MeRooms

Conducted by Marc Morrell, 4 September 2017

Interview with Jun Ishikawa, CEO Tabika

Conducted by Marc Morrell, 16 September 2017

Interview with Philip Morrell, CEO VJV

Conducted by Marc Morrell, 28 September 2017

Interview with Richard Jones, CEO Appsmaker Store

Conducted by Marc Morrell, 30 September 2017

Interview with Far Leeathiwat, CEO TourKrub

Conducted by Marc Morrell, 5 October 2017

Interview with Gareth Lymer, Innovation Expert

Conducted by Marc Morrell, 10 October 2017

Interview with Noppon Anukunwithaya, CEO TakeMeTour

Conducted by Marc Morrell, October 2017

Interview with Taro Amornched, CEO TakeMeTour

Conducted by Marc Morrell, October 2017


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‘ As an entrepreneur, this study is rather TakeMeTour’s self-reflection than academic thesis.

This thesis not only studied about outside perspective or business environment but into

the company’s culture. Thus, it can be applied for company improvement and be a good

suggestion as well.

“Trust is critical” is what we totally agree and keep improving this in many perspectives.

However, there are some difficulties in doing this. As mentioned in the thesis, the limited

resource in startup company is critical also and every startups need to deal with this

anyway. Moreover, travel startup like TakeMeTour, we are dealing with 2 sides of user, first

is foreigner, second is local people which suit with different approach. In case of foreigners

go visiting other developing country, it needed much more consideration before they make

a booking. In the other hand, Airbnb case, they started with domestic market which all

users are local people and the market is big enough to grow. That created an easier way to

build trust first.

When people talk about innovation, it’s often referred to technology. However, innovation

is more than that. What this study suggests is to innovate each step of customer flow by

empathizing, understanding, and offering new solution.’


‘Thank you so much for the insights on how to build & promote more innovation in

TakeMeTour. I like the fact that his recommendations are quite practical. Also, it’s taking

both internal (culture aspect) & external (branding & trust) factors into account. From time

to time, it’s crucial to get a recommendation from people outside the company to look into

your business from a different & fresh perspective.

The recommendation on building trust & add empathy element to the innovation are

something I think it’s very interesting. I’ll follow-up closely and make sure we take

that into account when developing a new idea. I have one specific comment on the

recommendations from you as follow:

Radically focus TMT’s offering: Focus on being exceptional at one thing rather than

creating variety for mass appeal.

> This is a very good and valid point. I totally agree that it’s good to be exceptional at one

thing. However, it’d have been even better to make a scalable impact from that. Therefore,

what we’ll be trying to do here is to create a scalable approach to what we are good at.

Instead of limit the offering to an only few trips, we may create an innovative solution (e.g.

using Machine Learning) to display a different set of trips to a different user. This is because

the experiences that people want could be subjective.

I personally find the rest of the recommendations very insightful. I appreciate his work and

effort on this. I firmly believe this will have a positive impact on TakeMeTour in the near




‘Your presentation is easy to understand and have simple design (“Simple is the best”).

Your presentation also raise awareness about some obstacles about difference in culture to

have international mindset as we hope to have in our TMT culture. And my opinion about

Checkins and Checkouts, I think it’s really useful to blend yourself into new workplace or

to get to know your co-worker easier. Also decrease stress from works. Its will follow by

increasing efficient productivity as well.’


‘The presentation goes deeper to the cultural differences which really explains the core

of International Mindset. (Since we’ve already started Checkins) I really like the idea of

Checkouts which connected to the closure experience you’ve talked about. It’s the same

way that we would like our customers to feel, so we should start with ourselves first.’


‘The presentation was excellent, simple is the best as Pantong said. Only one feedback

about presentation is the font on the slide, there is a font that *difficult to read*. About

Check In Check Out is good idea, we already did the check in and it works! and we should

have checkout too (actually we already have but not officially, like chit chat while walking

to the train station) It will help us knowing and understanding how was their day.’


‘Your presentation is good and pictures in the presentation is easy to understand. I think

like P’Jet about font it difficult to read. I can listen some word I know what that means but

do not understand well. Thank you for speak slowly.’


‘I like your presentation and as everyone said “Simple is the best”, I agree with @jetarin

that some font is really hard to read (by font styling itself and also color in some slide). I like

the theory in the presentation that analyze how difference of each culture are.

About checkins and checkout, as we do check in for about 2-3 weeks I thought I like it. It can

help us to sharing how the feeling are before we are going to work all days along.

That’s all for my opinion.


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