Connecting travellers with personalised tourism
It was a chance meeting with legendary naturalist and documentary filmmaker Sir David Attenborough in a smelly, bat-filled cave in Borneo that inspired Bibi Jellema and partner Paul Rowsthorn to establish Airguides.
Based in Queensland’s Noosa (Kabi Kabi/Gubbi Gubbi Country), Airguides is a bespoke travel company that packages tailored trips for its customers created by high profile, trusted storytellers.
The idea is to personalise holiday experiences based on the traveller’s interests, inspired by content and recommendations from those including photographers, chefs and filmmakers, with Airguides taking care of the planning, logistics and support.
Airguides takes flight
While Bibi and Paul, who met while backpacking in Cambodia, both share a passion for sustainable tourism, it wasn’t until they literally bumped into Sir David Attenborough – the man behind hit TV series such as Blue Planet – that the Airguides concept really took flight.
Thrilled to meet one of their personal heroes, the pair chatted amiably with the man they consider one of the world’s greatest natural storytellers.
“At that moment we thought, ‘What if our favourite travel storytellers could actually plan a trip for normal people like us and we could follow in their footsteps?’
From little ideas, big things grow
Originally from The Netherlands, Bibi moved to Australia with Paul and says Airguides began life as a travel blog chronicling their adventures, such as riding a motorbike through Vietnam.
“It started with a really simple blog, but I guess it was always about how could we bring local experiences online and make it easier for people to find these really unique experiences in the world.”
Its success at doing just that saw Airguides secure a $10,000 grant as winner of the tourism category of the inaugural Innovate with nbn™ Grants Program earlier this year.
Part of nbn’s commitment to regional and remote Australia, grants totalling $95,000 were awarded across seven categories: agriculture, arts, education, health, Indigenous business, tourism, and women in regional business.
The program aims to help regional tech businesses, such as Airguides, transform their ideas into game-changing achievements.
Bibi and Paul were thrilled when they found out the Innovate with nbn™ judges had recognised their hard work.
“It was so humbling and we feel so grateful to nbn for trusting us with the grant, and we hope we do them proud by creating more amazing experiences in Australia and New Zealand, and inspiring more people to travel to amazing regional destinations.”
Pivoting in the face of a pandemic
Paul says the timing of the Innovate with nbn™ grant proved crucial, coinciding with Airguides’ efforts to pivot in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Related travel restrictions severely disrupted Bibi and Paul’s efforts building an overseas market for their tailored tours in Australia and New Zealand, forcing the pair to successfully refocus on creating new trip packages in regional locations.
“For us, it’s really about promoting regional tourism, and First Nations experiences, helping those stories getting told through tourism again,” says Paul.
They now also work closely with local tourism boards across Australia, creating storytelling campaigns and bookable holiday packages tailored to their needs.
“It allowed us to focus on product development. So, for us, we know the types of products that we want to build – new trips in these regional destinations.”
Connectivity is the key
There was a time when Bibi and Paul based themselves in major cities, including Perth and Melbourne, because that’s where they thought they needed to be to run their business.
“We were based in Melbourne CBD at the time and were on the train every day and thought, ‘We’re not living what we’re selling,’” says Paul.
“It really came down to, I guess, the fear of not having a good internet connection.”
They say access to fast, secure and reliable broadband services via the nbn™ network has not only been crucial to Airguides’ success, but has granted them the flexibility to ‘live the dream’ – relocate to their own slice of paradise at Noosa on the Sunshine Coast, where they operate their innovative startup from home.*
“We are a fully online company, so we need to be able to talk to our operators, our storytellers and to our travellers, so it’s absolutely crucial for us to have that connectivity and the quality of it too that we can rely on,” says Bibi.
“So, we’re able to power our business remotely, we don’t have the stress. We can work from home with no problems at all.”
Bibi says the key is connectivity.
“Without access to services over the nbn™ network, we would not be able to operate, basically.” *