An industry expert strikes it out on her own to start a bespoke agency
For Soonie Wattanahongsiri, who counts 15 years of experience in major DMCs in Thailand – including Exo Travel, Khiri Travel and Abercrombie & Kent – a trusted reputation and word of mouth referrals are the most valuable tools to attract business for Blackrice Travel, a boutique travel agency she founded in early 2018.
The Bangkok-based startup offers customised trips to Thailand and South-east Asia for both travellers and corporate agents alike. “We have no fixed tariffs or modules. It’s all about customisation,” said Soonie.
Designing each holiday around a client’s needs and preferences, Soonie is adamant that she gives “a personal touch” to each booking, whether it’s welcoming clients upon their arrival at hotels or giving personalised souvenirs – think wicker placemats and fans embroidered with their names.
In an era where competition is intense and the travel market rife with OTAs, Soonie firmly believes there remains a clear market demand for bespoke travel agents like her.
Her extensive product knowledge and operations experience accumulated during her years with the region’s leading DMCs give her access to a ready pool of industry friends and business contacts eager to seek out her expertise, as well as a curated network of freelance guides whom she relies on to run tours.
Small is beautiful for this one-person agency, as Soonie handles every aspect of the trip, from tour conception to execution, enabling her to communicate clients’ exact travel style and requests to tour guides on the ground without losing the essence along the way – which is not uncommon for bigger outfits as a client passes through several hands.
“I want to be the missing link between clients and tour guides,” the travel guru stressed.
Blackrice Travel has its sights set on targeting families and LGBT, segments where highly personalised service and recommendations for travel programmes are sought after.
And with experiential, authentic travel wave on the rise, food tourism is a tantalising focus sector in Soonie’s eyes.
“Food tourism has become a big thing. Visitors often come with requests wanting to try certain food,” she shared.
Her formidable knowledge of the local dining scene and food culture has already won her a spot on the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s upcoming Hello Taste campaign, where Blackrice Travel is among the operators picked to design food-themed itineraries showcasing the Thai culinary scene.