Withlocals on connecting travellers and locals through shared cultural experiences

Withlocals is a travel platform that offers travellers private, custom tours, hosted by local guides. Headquartered in the Netherlands, Withlocals operates in over 50 countries and provides responsible travel experiences, including food tours, day trips, and bike excursions.

We spoke with Matthijs Keij, chief executive officer of Withlocals, about the impact of social media in tourism, the importance of supporting local economies, and partnering with Stripe to continue global expansion.

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How has your background founding a number of companies helped at Withlocals?

A company must have a strong mission. This defines what you want to achieve as a company and motivates the team to do their best work, and in the case of Withlocals, it motivates both our travellers and hosts. When everyone lives and breathes the same mission, our ecosystem becomes more efficient and more impactful.

What does the typical Withlocals customer look like?

Our customers are travellers who love to go off the beaten path. They’re looking for that sweet spot between adventure and comfort. We think of our customers as those who have graduated from a backpacking trip through Europe or Southeast Asia but still want to connect with like-minded people, make new friends, and share experiences.

Millennials are our core target audience. They generally spend more on travel and invest in experiences that are important to them, whether food, art, or culture.

How is AI impacting tourism, and how can travel companies, or travellers themselves, use this technology to enhance their trips?

Technology opens exciting opportunities with travel. We’re already seeing people ask AI to recommend activities based on their interests. AI can then scan YouTube videos, travel blogs, and media articles to provide an itinerary or offer hidden gems that would have taken hours of research to uncover. We see AI as a productivity tool, assisting in creating content in a tone and style that matches our existing brand voice.

But while a helpful tool, AI is not a replacement for human connection, which is invaluable in travel. At Withlocals, we help travellers and locals connect through shared cultural experiences, something AI cannot provide. Looking forward, AI will continue to help in travel research, but the human connection element will persist.

How have social media platforms, like TikTok and Instagram, impacted the experiences or locations travellers book on your site?

Social media has impacted travel – positively and negatively. It has encouraged us to explore new places, and we should celebrate this. Yet we often flock to the same towns, restaurants, or landmarks – similar pasta shops in Italy or the same café in Paris. Recently a fry stand in Amsterdam went viral on TikTok, and while this greatly benefited the store, the long lines blocked other local shopfronts, hiding their businesses from foot traffic. This impact is amplified on small towns and villages that may not have the infrastructure to support thousands of visitors.

We face the same challenge at Withlocals – we also have a list of hidden gems. It’s a delicate balance to highlight the favourite spots of locals, while also protecting these establishments and surrounding communities.

How do you support and encourage sustainable and responsible travel?

While an incredibly difficult time for the travel industry, COVID-19 encouraged us to rethink who we are as a company and what is at our core. We’ve built a platform that supports both travellers and local guides. We want to provide a fair income and support local businesses.

Pursuing a B Corp certification in 2022 was an important mechanism to hold ourselves accountable. And we have since put more than €25 million back into local communities, to both our guides and to small businesses, such as restaurants and bars we partner with for our food tours.

How do rising inflation and higher costs of living impact Withlocals?

Inflation has impacted pricing but not sales. Our customers appreciate the value they receive from our tours and are willing to pay for new experiences. Our pricing remains comparable to the local restaurants our customers are visiting or museum tickets they are purchasing.

Elsewhere, we’re still experiencing the post-COVID bounce in travel demand. People want to get out and explore again, and that’s evident in our booking numbers.

How do you balance supporting your hosts while ensuring a quality customer experience for travellers?

We start from the guest’s perspective to determine how we can provide a memorable trip – striving for a five-star experience. However, guests can be demanding, and unexpected delays or events can happen when travelling, leading our customers to arrive late to meet the local guide. We try to find the right balance.

A good local guide can solve difficult situations and use their improv skills and knowledge of their city to pivot appropriately. If there is an issue, we work with the guest and the guide to determine what happened and find a solution.

How does Stripe enable Withlocals to successfully conduct business across a number of global markets?

We are a travel company with a strong fintech angle because we process global payments daily behind the scenes. We’re grateful to have Stripe as a partner that makes this process effortless. Stripe has built our payment methods, whether for our customers to purchase a tour or for our guides to receive compensation, across continents. This has meant our business can be successful even in the most remote locations. Stripe has also ensured we are compliant from a legal perspective, particularly in Europe. Stripe’s support has freed us up to focus on our mission to connect people and cultures.

How has Stripe helped Withlocals in supporting its overall goals?

Our goal is to offer Withlocals across the globe, and there are many travel destinations that are not yet available. Stripe has become our trusted partner, enabling us to expand to new cities and countries. In addition, we want to continue to give back to our local communities and economies, a value that we share with Stripe. Stripe is making the world a better place, and we’re honoured to work with Stripe to make an impact together.

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