Lockdown Economy Nederland in a Bespoke Travel Agency with Raoul Fokké

The interview was transcribed and adapted into an article by Tapasya Das

Lockdown Economy: Interviews by think tank AlterContacts.org with real entrepreneurs sharing insights, challenges and successes during the COVID19 global pandemic to inspire, motivate and encourage other entrepreneurs around the world.

In this interview hosted by Rosie Allison, we meet Raoul Fokké founder of The Act of Travel, a bespoke travel agency based in Amsterdam, and Fokké Agency, a digital branding organisation. Raoul found himself in an industry that was brought completely to a halt by the Covid-19 pandemic, but this did not stop him from continuing to help his clients throughout the lockdown period. Initially, his work focused on ensuring his clients were refunded for the holidays they had booked and were unable to go on, but then his focused turned to help them with their own businesses. Many of The Act of Travel’s clients are entrepreneurs, so Raoul began to think of ways in which he and his team could help them survive the pandemic. He founded Fokké Agency to help entrepreneurs with their digital branding, diversifying his business to deal with the challenges of the pandemic. By always asking what he could do to help his clients, Raoul was able to find new business avenues during the pandemic whilst simultaneously helping many small businesses survive the difficult lockdown period.

Watch the video version of the interview.

Let’s start with “The Act of Travel”. What do you do as a business?

Raoul: I founded “The Act of Travel” and we are actually quite a young business. We started in 2019, in March. I transitioned from a corporate job to take a leap of faith and opening up this agency. We are really focussed on individual leisure trips, mostly in the high-end segment. That’s something that helps clients who don’t have time to curate and plan their own trips. So we help them out. So most of our clients are entrepreneurs who are doing well and are too busy. There is also a group of professional athletes that we help out because again these guys train all day and they don’t have the time to plan their trips. So that is sort of where we come in. Our niche is really focussing more on the modern-day traveller who appreciates architecture or design, and who wants to stay away from the crowds. So that is what we do with the travel agency. We all work remotely. We are really trying to stay away from traditional travel agencies. We work remotely and our clients literally WhatsApp us. That is the sort of way by which we communicate. As for the branding agency, we actually founded it during this whole period. This is quite new. We launched it officially back in May this year when we were just helping out small entrepreneurs in making that transition into this digital era. Because obviously, in this time that we are in, the importance of being present in the digital space was made even more so important that what it already was. So that is all that we do.

It sounds like you have got a lot going on! You are juggling many different things, in fact, two companies there. And obviously, the travel industry is the one, that has been probably the most affected by the COVID Pandemic. Were you able to stimulate your business in any way at the start of this pandemic or was this movement into digital branding just a way for you to continue?

Raoul: It was a bit of both. Initially, before this pandemic sort of started, we already saw it coming back in December-January. Because it started off in Asia and we had people travelling there. We already noticed the restrictions that were already posed upon that area. So obviously we never expected it to fly over to the entire world to this extent. So I think in February, we were pretty clear about where it wasting. We started helping out our clients initially, just to get their money back. So that was our first focus.

And then at some point, we were just out of work, because you can only do so many cancellations or marketing and strategising! We were actually thinking about and reaching out to our clients. Our aim has always been to stay in touch with them and just to add value. We were three of us and each of us has their own content portfolio. So we would be periodically giving them a call or sending them a WhatsApp text, just to see how they were doing. A lot of the, like I said, are entrepreneurs and so we would ask them if there is anything that we could help with. We are all young people and we are willing to assist.

That was our way of staying in touch with them and of making sure that they remember us, whenever they would be ready to travel again. And actually from that, the agency grew. It was a really interesting transition. One of us was helping with social media, the other one was helping with setting up our e-commerce store. And we were like, “Guys, we should actually just do something with this!”. So at that point, in May, we started this agency officially. And actually, until today, we are having clients, where we are helping them out accordingly. But when it comes to travel specifically, in the beginning, The Netherlands started opening up. We obviously weren’t too familiar with the little Dutch gems because we were so focussed on the outside of Europe.

That’s what most of our trips were. So we had to check out tons of hotels or private accommodation in a very small amount of time. We again wanted to continue to be in touch with our clients and deliver them content that’s relevant to them. We started this bi-weekly digest where we called it “local edit” by “The Act of Travel”. There we would highlight five private or hotel properties that we found suitable for them to stay in. That is what we did in the beginning.

Then Europe started opening up, spring and summer kicked in and that actually was an extremely busy time for travel. Everyone was ready to go, no-one really knew how it worked and so that was obviously really good for us. So we had a really busy summer and then it went back down again. We are still in that realm. We are seeing a lot of good business coming for the month of December during the holiday period. It is super limited. So we can have like four countries that we are working with at the moment. So it’s just an interesting time to get to be in.

The conversations that we have with our clients are so different from what we are used to. But at the same time, it’s also just a bit exciting because we are seeing a lot of opportunities as well, like this agency that we started. It’s going pretty well. Also on the travel side, we are really thinking about concepts that are still relevant. We are really made to move around and to explore. We really believe that; especially now in December, which is usually the month of reflection, then in the month of May, where we are now headed and also during the Pandemic which is an additional element or layer to that self-reflection. So we figured that we would build a local travel concept around it.

So it is like another opportunity that we are working on at the moment. We are launching that soon and so we are really excited about it. We are actually trying to listen to our clients, to see what they are doing or how they are travelling at the moment and we are building around it. We are also thinking of occasions like “Workations”. We have six clients-two in Portugal, the rest in Italy-who are just travelling around from hotel to hotel. They left three months ago with the initial intent of going for two weeks. But I think that during these days, when everyone is working remotely anyway and wanting a change of scenery, this concept of “Workation” becomes even more interesting. It is a new inspiration for us to build on. So, that’s how we are moving these times.

That’s really interesting to hear how you listen to your clients and you are able to diversify your business in order to suit their changing needs in this period. You started your new agency, Fokké agency when your work with this travel industry was down a little bit. And now that has come back up and the agency is doing well. How are you managing this sudden growth and diversification with your team?

Raoul: That’s still one thing that I’m figuring out, to be honest. I worked till 2 am yesterday, just to give you an idea. It’s extremely busy but at the same time we are setting up a lot of things. So we are just working and making long days at the moment, which is hopefully not going to be a continuing trend. But that’s how we are coping at the moment and I haven’t thought about the future. What if travel goes down again? We are not sure what travel is going to do really. We have an idea of course. It’s going to move ahead. I think what really makes us happy as a business, is the fact that we can create stuff. Initially, we created trips and travel. Now we can create other things that of value for people. So that’s just in essence what we love to do.

When everything comes down a bit, hopefully, you will be able to have your own holiday and you will be able to create your own relaxation as you do for your clients. It’s interesting really hearing how you have diversified your business. But I am sure, as, with any small business, there are somethings that you need help with. So if you could name three things that in the current climate, you and your two businesses really need a hand with, what would they be?

Raoul: I thought about that and I think that I realised something and there is one thing I really need help within this period. Especially me, as a founder, I have so many ideas. Also the team, we have so many ideas altogether. It is sometimes really difficult to filter them. I realised it last week that I need some sort of mentor or someone who is outside my network, with whom I can bounce ideas or just talk. So that’s the main thing that came to my mind.

I cannot really come up with a third one, sorry! Those are like the two main things I’m dealing with at the moment.

Raoul, do you have any final words for everyone?

Raoul: Make this year count! We have one more month to go. So don’t let it go to waste. That’s all that I have to say.

About the Guest

Raoul Fokké born in Amsterdam, globally raised. Founder and travel designer at Act of Travel where he specializes in curating and creating bespoke travel experiences. The Act of Travel is a modern-age travel agency specialized in planning and curating travel to the places less visited. Raoul also founded Fokkee Agency this year where he helps small brands to elevate their brand stories and positioning.

Website Act of Travel: https://www.act-of-travel.com/

Instagram Act of Travel: https://www.instagram.com/act_of_travel/

Website Fokkee Agency: https://www.fokkee.com/

New travel concept: https://www.act-of-travel.com/soloret

The UN-registered nonprofit social initiative that helps small businesses and self-employed professionals to overcome the challenges of the pandemic.