In the early days of a fledgling business, it can be what you choose not to do that determines your success, rather than things you do. Imagine producing guidebooks with no photos and forgoing an app as well. Yet that’s exactly what Whileaway Guides have done, resulting in a thriving travel business with devoted fans.
Following an extended stint working in London and travelling regularly to Europe, Jess Grinter and Kitty Spry found themselves a little lost back in Australia when, as weekends beckoned, their friends didn’t rush out of town. And okay, within a few hours of Sydney there is no Barcelona, Helsinki or Prague, but there must be some exciting places to discover and they set out to find them.
“We realised there were obviously things to see and do, so we actually started doing them. And pretty soon people started asking ‘what did you do in Orange or Noosa or the Sunshine Coast?’, which got us thinking,” says Kitty of the early days.
After the 100th email to friends with suggestions on where they should go, it dawned on Jess and Kitty that there was a business idea coming to life
At the time in 2011, helpful travel information was found either in the form of bulky, generalist guide books or buried in what Jess describes as, “the rabbit hole of Google searches where you can get stuck for days”. Once you rolled into a town, tourist information centres at least provided a local context but the information was often paid for, so hardly impartial. Armed with this knowledge, Jess and Kitty ditched full-time careers in design and IT respectively to create Whileaway Guides.
“It’s like the diary of a well-travelled friend or family member, who has personally been to the location and whose opinion you trust,” says Jess.
Not wanting to offer another cumbersome tome, the guides were developed with their own unique personality. Each guide is just 10 pages, comes in a fold-out format and focuses on just one region. With women making most travel decisions, the guides are designed to fit perfectly into a handbag while the itinerary-based content showcases only what you need for a weekend of highlights – no duds to waste your precious time. “We know people are time poor”, says Kitty, “they’ve only got two or three days to get away and they don’t want to muck around going for a bad breakfast or dodgy coffee.”
Eschewing the tacky high gloss and gaudy colours of conventional travel literature, Whileaway Guides use a simple layout, matt-finish and gelato colour scheme to create a vintage look – sans photos. “We’re really about describing the experience and generating excitement, rather than having preconceptions based on a photo,” says Jess.
It’s the same when they research their guides, going in person and chatting to café owners or bar staff and getting recommendations from people who are more than happy to talk about their area. “I think that’s key to the regional areas. People who live there are just so passionate. These people really have to work for their region.”
Predictably, people often ask the girls when an app is coming, but it’s something they’ve decided not to do in the near future. Chats with existing customers reveal the tactility and intimacy of their print guide is still valued.
With 33 guides in the range spanning Australia, now the question is less about whether to expand overseas, but more when to do it and where to go first. According to Jess, “there is definitely an opportunity to expand this brand, just think about the adventure market in New Zealand, the Cotswolds in the UK or somewhere like Granada in Spain.”