Travel tips made Loacal

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By Spyros Papavassiliou

Aysem Zorlu loves to travel. In fact, she loves it so much, she went ahead and created a website to make it even better.

Named Loacal, the website tries to make the hospitality and insider knowledge that only a true local can offer available to travellers from around the world.

It’s like a social networking site combined with the entrepreneurship of the traveller’s community.

The website is a platform that brings together locals and travellers.

The locals, in exchange for a fee, offer some kind of unique experience for travellers to enjoy.

The website so far has experiences from Cyprus, parts of Turkey, and is looking to expand to Greece before taking on other countries.

Insider tours of Nicosia, bird watching treks, foodie tours, strawberry picking, cooking classes, olive oil tastings, diving excursions, underwater photography, fishing trips, horse riding, pottery workshops, these are literally only a handful of the varied experiences on offer in Loacal.

And this is all before the website expands further into other countries.

As with many good startup stories, the story of how Loacal came to be, begins with someone quitting their job.

“I was riding from home to work on my bicycle, and I had a small accident. I felt like I had enough,” says Zorlu.

“So, one day, I said: That’s it, I’m quitting my job and travelling.”

“I was at that time living in London… I worked as a data analyst/statistician. Data miner. Machine learner. I have lots of names for what I used to do,” Zorlu adds with a touch of sarcasm.

It’s at this point that Zorlu decided to travel to South America to volunteer at a rainforest in Peru. From there, she travelled to other countries in the continent, meeting locals.

“When I met with the locals, we went surfing together, I went for cooking lessons in someone’s house. I said to myself, why don’t we have this worldwide? Why isn’t there a website where I can meet anyone I want with similar interests?” wondered Zorlu.

“And that’s how it started,” she says.

Early on, Zorlu envisioned the website more as a social networking site, where a traveller could meet locals with similar interests online ahead of a trip. Over time, she gravitated more towards a website serving niche tourism.

She has had to self-fund the website, and only recently received approximately €22,000 in funding from a Turkish Cypriot organisation for funding small-and medium-sized businesses in the north.

Zorlu is Turkish Cypriot, but said she prefers to call herself a “global citizen”. It is only natural that she also sees the website as a project serving bicommunal interests as well.

The website features experiences from both sides of Cyprus, with many of the tours taking place across the Green Line. Many of the Nicosia tours, for instance, include casual strolls back and forth through the Green Line checkpoints.

As for the state of the startup scene in all of Cyprus, Zorlu is reserved but optimistic.

“It’s still at the early stages compared to the rest of Europe. Especially in the northern side of the island, we don’t even have space where we can do what we need to. It’s so hard to find funding on both sides. But things are changing,” she says.

“I know there are other startups, and I see them trying. I think there will be something happening soon,” Zorlu says.