ArmInfo.Startups, UX design, outsourcing, visual design, new spheres, and new areas of activity that are becoming more and more popular in our time. The era requires new knowledge to make life easier for those who want, if not to be ahead of time, then at least to keep up with it. We bring to your attention an interview with a person who understands all this professionally - Karen Vardazaryan, head of UX design, travel enthusiast, and co-founder of Memopin, a new platform that helps digitize traveler experiences on the go.
He has more than 18 years of experience in the UX and Visual Design field. Karen studied Computer Networks and Systems at the State University of Engineering of Armenia (Polytechnic) but changed his focus to web design since he thought he would enjoy it more. Karen did numerous projects through 99designs and worked with dozens of local and international outsource companies.
– One day I decided to jump into UX research and design and I joined some great teams to learn more in the field,- says Karen Vardazaryan - I've worked in world-class companies, such as Joomag, ShowMe, TUMO, and PicsArt. I am helping and consulting Product teams of numerous startups and big corporations and will be delighted to help others here too.
His background in entrepreneurship dates back to 2008 when he established the outsourcing design firm Bright8Media. Karen currently works on a variety of projects, including e-commerce, user experience consulting, and developing a new product for the travel industry.
– Please tell us more about your startup
Sure. Let me first describe the problem that has to be resolved. Independent travel is now very mainstreaming among people. But lots of tourists are largely unaware of so many local businesses and local guides. Communication between tourists and businesses has changed recently. Simply having a Facebook page and registering for an outdated local catalog is not enough. It is crucial to provide travelers with content in the right way at the right time.
That’s what Memopin is here for. We help storytellers, travel professionals and hospitality businesses to provide online experiences to travelers using a powerful map and storytelling tools in one app in order to help people discover new places in the most personal way.
With our platform, service providers, bloggers, local guides, and portals can now be more accessible and practical for independent travelers.
We have a huge potential to go viral. With all these saved locations + media in Memopin, satisfied travelers will bring new guests to the region by sharing their own recommendations.
– What is the current status of the product?
We are currently testing our beta product and adding more and more every month. In addition, we actively communicate with local experts and businesses to bring the most effective tool to the market.
Memopin is an official sponsor of The Extraordinary Travel Festival in Yerevan. The goal of the festival is to bring people together from around the world, people who love traveling to every country in the world and are passionate to explore extreme destinations. This will be a multi-day event with inspiring speakers and famous travelers from many countries.
– Have the events of recent years affected you?
No doubt. Tourism has been significantly impacted by the pandemic, the war in Artsakh, and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.
Despite all the catastrophes, we kept working on the product, even if we had to alter our approach. It was unable to communicate with experts from other countries during the scheduled conferences and workshops. We were all at home, as well as the travelers. Hotels, travel companies, and guides all of a sudden disappeared from view and it was hard to reach out to them.
However, due to a substantial shift in the travel industry toward a more digital approach and the increase in demand for independent travel, our vision has become a massive trend in the industry. So we focused on the platform itself since at this stage it was clear to us what needed to be done for the initial version of the product.
– How has the situation changed due to the influx of people from Russia and other countries?
With the arrival of Russian-speaking IT specialists in Armenia, local technology companies and specialists have a chance to look at many things from the outside and evaluate the market.
While talking with those who recently moved to Yerevan, it turned out that we are not so bad with some services, but we do not have the level of digital applications that they used at home.
We quickly released a minimal version of the product for them and created maps on various topics - where to go with children in Yerevan, cafes, and co-working spaces for freelancers, popular bars, pubs, and others. It was nice to see quite active traffic to the curated lists and a lot of reposts in the telegram and various shares. We asked for feedback and continued to shape the product.
Also, we are actively communicating with local experts and businesses to find the best way how to help them.
Relocated people mainly draw information from Telegram channels, in which they often share their experiences with each other. Local brokers, tour operators, lawyers, and active citizens are also very active there. Active foreign bloggers who visit various places in Armenia and then themselves and retell local stories share useful tips and videos, thereby promoting these destinations. Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to find the information from the guides or operators themselves.
As for our digital products, the situation is ambiguous. Of course, we have banking applications, government services, and food delivery applications. But their number is smaller and the quality is lower. The same with directories and data, there are not enough solutions to solve problems with finding tours, various services, and calculations of transport routes. Successful local companies such as GG Taxi, Menu.am, Yerevanride competes with localized foreign applications like Glovo, Bold, Yandex, and others.
– What you can say about our travel industry products?
There are a very small number of digital services and mobile applications, and the majority of them are out-of-date. Some travel businesses are investing in content production and maintaining their own booking platforms. There are high-quality blogs like Absolutearmenia. But we need more smart solutions, and digital services for businesses. Our tourism sector needs more support. Although the official tourist committee is highly motivated and does its best to assist, it doesn’t have enough funding to support the sector. Main support comes from international funds and organizations which is not enough.
Companies like ARTrails and HikeArmenia are good examples of products that cater to niche tourists. We are collaborating with several awesome teams in the field and it would be great to see more people with innovative and disrupting mindsets.
– We have tour operators and restaurants who are proactive in social marketing campaigns. Isn't it good?
It's great that the majority of businesses utilize Tiktok, Facebook, and Instagram. Some of them participate in Telegram chats and run advertisements. Let's just state that it is necessary. You can discover our hotels and guesthouses on Booking.com and other OTAs; we also have a large number of Airbnb hosts. Some of the local tour guides even are listed as registered users on specialized booking websites like GetYourGuide.
But for a variety of reasons, this is not enough. The majority of social activities and campaigns are accessible to tourists who already have a general understanding of where they're going from other sources and only need to clarify it.
Content marketing is a very effective way to promote our destination. A local guide, a guest house, and a museum can attract travelers with an interesting, unique story. People need emotions associated with new places, legends of the past, and stories about people. A good storyteller can turn any trip into an unforgettable journey.
Any destination should tell stories. In addition to our nation’s tragic past, people who are interested in Armenia should find fascinating emotional stories, articles, and videos that motivate them to visit the places they are connected with. We need more channels to convey the most diverse multifaceted information about us.
Activity providers, agents, and hospitality businesses do not have digital solutions to provide personalized services to their customers. Hotels practically do not have their own applications for automating services, sharing itineraries with tips on what to do nearby. Also, many businesses do not automate marketing campaigns and work with influencers and content creators.
Many tourists today expect high-quality digital solutions from storytellers, travel agencies, events organizers, and official tourism organizations of the country. We should build such solutions so that we can compete with other areas.
– We have successful startups like PicsArt or Krisp. Is there a chance to have a global travel product?
Of course! Every successful startup in the industry openly advertises the nation where the product was produced. For instance, Armenian company 360Stories, a VR and AR travel storytelling platform has established successful partnerships with world-famous content creators and publishers, which, in one way or another, promote us as a new tech hub to the entire travel industry.
There are small countries with a great impact on the travel industry. For example, the Netherlands, as a relatively small country, is a very popular travel destination and has hundreds of companies with very strong products from Booking.com to innovative startups like Withlocals, Polarsteps, and many more.
If we position ourselves as a tourist destination we should not only improve our digital services but build high-quality products in the global market.