Ep. 206 — The Highs and Lows of Being a Tour Operator in Southeast Asia

Listen to the incredible journey of how Steve Williams found his way into the industry and helped transform some local operators before building his own business. And take note of the wasted $1m on Facebook ads and the costs of acquiring customers!

In this episode, our host, Peter Syme, is joined by seasoned travel industry professional, Steve Williams, the founder of Trunk Travel and The Bamboo Project. Join us as we explore the highs and lows of being a tour operator in South East Asia, delving into the challenges, triumphs, and personal journeys that shape the landscape of travel and tourism. From navigating the impacts of COVID-19 to the transformative experiences that led to the formation of new ventures, Peter and Steve share candid insights into the realities of operating in this dynamic industry. Tune in to learn from their experiences and gain valuable perspectives on the ever-evolving world of travel and tourism.


00:00 Steve’s operation: tour operator and DMC. Responsible travel, impactful experiences, off the beaten track.

04:14 Police officer and partner take sabbatical for travel.

07:12 Built toilets, farmed, and developed sustainable income.

10:58 Volunteer work, eBay sales, led to fulfillment.

16:03 Received living expenses, gained valuable entrepreneurial knowledge.

19:33 Successful salesperson finds passion in entrepreneurial journey.

22:42 DMC manages ground tours for outbound travel companies.

25:41 Real Gap’s partnership led to rapid growth.

28:43 Passionate sales and adventure travel business in Thailand.

30:43 Team worked without pay, brought in bookings.

35:45 Failed to expand good intentions into success.

40:29 Staff, technology, basics, customer acquisition cost, profitability.

43:54 Regular meetings and communication are crucial.

44:34 Meeting had little impact, led to departure.

50:55 Signed new suppliers, diverse inquiries, optimistic about 2023.

52:05 Thailand tourism closures, 8,000,000 affected, opportunities arise.

56:45 Sharing mistakes to help community learn faster.