What makes Urbanist Travel special is the exploration of hidden little gems of Vietnamese geographies, arts, histories, cuisines and people. With meticulousness in designing each product, Urbanist Travel brings a new perspective and untold stories about seemingly familiar destinations.
Destination Review had the opportunity to talk with Ms. Chau Cecilia Nguyen, Co-founder/CEO of Urbanist Travel about the Urbanist Travel brand and the values that she wishes to bring to tourists about Vietnamese culture.
I have been working in the tourism sector for more than 12 years. During that time, I cherished a desire to run my own travel agency. At the beginning of 2020, my ex-company was forced to cut off staff due to the impact of the epidemic and I was on the list. After that, I decided to fulfill my long-standing wish. I took a trip from North to South of Vietnam for about 1 month to rediscover Vietnam and more importantly, to see if I was really passionate and wanted to do it. I also spend time researching and learning contents about Vietnamese culture, especially Saigon, where I was born and raised.
After that, I had the opportunity to talk and share with the two founders of Urbanist Network, which manages the brands Saigoneer, Urbanist Hanoi and Urbanist Vietnam. These are very great and profound content pages about lifestyle and especially about Vietnamese culture. Fortunately, the two founders of Urbanist Network share the same passion for exploring the cultural characteristics of Vietnam and they are excited about my ideas. They also have plan to expand to the tourism segment for their company but do not have enough resources. Therefore, we collaborated to jointly establish Urbanist Travel in October 2020.
Currently, Urbanist Travel has two core products in Saigon, namely the Hem Gems Street Food Tour, and the D1 Modernist Architecture Tour.
The Hem Gems Street Food Tour is based on the Hem Gems content section on Saigoneer. In this tour, Urbanist Travel not only helps tourists explore unique street food eateries in the small alleys of Saigon, but also gives tourists interesting stories behind, chances to talk with the owner, unique features that are sometimes new to Saigon people.
The second core tour is the D1 Modernist Architecture Tour. Saigon has many modern architectures that are familiar to everyone such as the Independence Palace, General Science Library of Ho Chi Minh City,… People living in Saigon probably know the historical significance of these works, however, behind them are interesting architectural stories of a modernist architectural work that was built in the middle of the 20th century. These architectural works are designed by Vietnamese architects in international Modernist architectural style combined with the identity of Vietnamese history and culture.
These works are the pride of Saigon as well as Vietnam, and Urbanist Travel wants to spread the beauties and pride to both domestic and international tourists.
In terms of business, there are more than 1000 travel agencies in the Vietnam market. Therefore, when setting up a new travel agency, it is necessary to consider the position of the business in the market. I chose to develop tours of exploration based on Saigon’s heritage from a completely different perspective to differentiate Urbanist Travel from others in the market. . This is a niche market, it may be more difficult, but it is very interesting and there are not many documents that spread these beauties of Saigon. Urbanist Travel targets the upper-middle class customers who want to learn, and delve into Saigon architecture and cuisine. If simply exploring the highlights of the city, tourists can completely go on their own. But the values that Urbanist Travel can bring are profound experiences and untold stories about the beauties of Vietnamese culture.
One of the difficulties to mention first is finding a companion who shares the same vision and enthusiasm to bring the quality experiences and the right values to tourists. It is truly a blessing that I had the opportunity to cooperate with Urbanist Network. Besides, to design tours of exploring Saigon through modernist architectural works, Urbanist Travel also has advice from Architect Pham Phu Vinh – a young architect with deep understanding of the modernist architectural works and he has just published a book on Amazon after years of research on the subject. In addition, there is a tour guide with more than 15 years of experience who accompanies Urbanist Travel in designing and evaluating products.
Besides, training for tour guides is also a challenge in the beginning. Most tour guides are familiar with the way of introducing Saigon through French colonial buildings, or popular sites such as Notre Dame Cathedral, Saigon Central Post Office. The knowledge in Urbanist Travel’s tours seems completely new to them. Therefore, it takes time to be able to recruit tour guides who can understand the values that Urbanist Travel wants to bring to tourists. Currently, Urbanist Travel’s team has about 10 tour guides, which is really lucky and precious.
Another difficulty that both Urbanist Travel and other travel agencies have to face when designing new tours is building trust with local authorities and communities in the destinations. Vietnam has great potential for developing tourism, but to develop a new destination sustainably and not be overtourism requiring a roadmap as well as appropriate management. It is a long-term issue and requires cooperation of many parties, because in addition to convincing local authorities and communities to trust and understand the benefits of sustainable tourism, it also requires the cooperation of partners in the sector.
Urbanist Travel aims to become a destination management company (DMC) in the Asia region. In addition to other destinations in Vietnam that the company is planning to build products, Urbanist Travel also has ambitions to expand to other countries such as Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand. Those are the three new destinations that I want to connect and design package tours for tourists. The most difficult thing when expanding to new destinations is still finding partners with the same views and vision to build products with Urbanist Travel’s characteristics. That forces me to be firm with the principles and values that I as well as the Urbanist Travel brand want to bring to tourists.
In addition, I cherish the plan to develop wellness tourism products. In my opinion, wellness tourism is not only for the super-rich. Not just traveling and staying at luxury hotels or experiencing high-class spa services, I want to bring true wellness products, which combine traveling and mind-body-spirit cultivation at a reasonable price that upper-middle class tourists can experience.