NUR-SULTAN – An adventure honeymoon in his native country turned into a business idea for ethnic Kazakh Atahan Tosun and his wife, Alexandra. In 2015, the Swiss couple founded Indy Guide, a website that offers guidance for travellers and business opportunities for Central Asian tourism companies.
Atahan started his fascinating narrative about the love of his homeland with the phrase “My story in one sentence.”
“I am a native Kazakh who grew up in Switzerland and I am now promoting Kazakhstan and Central Asia as a travel destination and supporting local tourism providers with the largest travel platform for this region,” he noted.
“Ultimately, we want our guests to have memories for life. Our vision is that Indy Guide enables life-changing travel experiences along the Silk Road – like it did for us. One of our main goals with Indy Guide is to promote this exceptional part of the world to a worldwide audience and to correct all the prejudices,” he added.
The couple, both employed by Swiss banks, quit their jobs, married and started their journey.
“This was my very first visit to my homeland. Without any expectations or any plans, we were blown away by the options the country offers to travellers. We were touched by the hospitality of the people and by the cultural and natural beauty of the country. Our immediate thought was ‘The world has to know about this,’” said Atahan.
They recalled encountering some difficulties as travellers. Online resources were limited, at least in English, let alone access to local hosts and tour operators. It took them three days to find a tour from Ust-Kamenogorsk to the Altai Mountains.
They realised the need for a platform like Indy Guide and soon launched the first version of the website. They stayed in the country for a year, visited other Silk Road destinations in the region and met with as many providers as possible.
“Although we were not tourism experts we both could bring our skills into the project, like my management skills and tech understanding and Alex’s marketing and communication skills. Right now, our IT team operates out of India and we also work with freelancers from around the world for social media management, content management and public relations,” he added.
For the past three years, the couple has been steadily building a regional network of independent guides, drivers and tour operators, enabling others to enjoy authentic local experiences. They encourage guests to book directly with their service providers.
Indy Guide is now the largest regional travel marketplace. With more than 3,000 hosts and 5,000 listings, it connects travellers with thousands of service providers in Central Asia, the Caucasus, Mongolia and beyond.
The website is independent, as Indy Guide is not a tour operator. Users can browse a wide range of fixed price offers with reviews from previous guests.
For his efforts, Kazakh Tourism recently named Atahan an Ambassador of Tourism. Central Asia, however, is still widely unknown as a travel destination or people have the wrong impression about the region.
“The tourism industry worldwide is hungry for new destinations,” said Alexandra. “More and more people are looking for new places to discover and to share; they want to experience a different culture, in a remote place. They want to avoid mass tourism. While many regions of the world are suffering from over tourism and its negative consequences, Central Asia has a great opportunity to become the next tourist region for open-minded travellers and develop a real sustainable tourism by learning from the mistakes of other destinations.”
The Tosuns feel Central Asia still has the chance to save and preserve its traditions and nature for future generations.
“We want to help develop tourism that can help towards this goal and not against it. Indy Guide supports local tourism development by creating a platform for local service providers and offering them training,” they said.
The couple believes the language barriers and lack of tourism infrastructure and information will not be solved overnight. For now, this is part of their story telling, part of an authentic travel experience. That’s why “we call our customers ‘guests’ and our providers ‘hosts,’” they said.
Central Asia has tremendous potential because of its beautiful nature, but also its rich culture and hospitable people, they believe.
At first, the couple met the majority of their partners in person during visits to Kazakhstan and Central Asia, as they wanted the affiliations to be based on trust and loyalty. Now, Indy Guide is so popular that local providers approach them to become part of the community.
The Tosuns are in touch with them on a daily basis through all available offline and online channels. They plan to launch a regular webinar for hosts.
“Our platform has become an important business tool for our hosts. After three years of learning, for us and for our hosts, it is time for a new, more sophisticated platform. We are developing a new platform from scratch that will replace the current one. The core function will remain the same – matchmaking between guests and verified hosts. Our platform will make it easier for both parties to find what they are looking for in a much more efficient manner,” they noted.
They are delighted to receive positive feedback from travellers about their Central Asian trips. Some describe it as “their trip of a lifetime with memories for life.”
“Our guests come back from their journeys having their expectations exceeded. They love the openness and the hospitality of the people and, of course, the cultural and natural beauty of the countries. That’s what they will tell and show their friends. We also get great feedback from hosts how Indy Guide has helped them grow and establish their business. Receiving feedback from guests and hosts, we live for moments like that. Travel connects people and changes lives. That’s why we do what we do,” said Alexandra.
To learn more about authentic travel experiences, one can visit www.indy-guide.com.