Home-cooked meals for hungry travellers
UNDERGRADUATES Rinita Vanjre and Inez Wihardjo spent a miserable Christmas in Paris last year after finding all the stores and restaurants were closed for the day. Cold and hungry, they were left pining for a hot home-cooked meal.
That unpleasant experience, however, sparked a business idea.
The two friends came up with BonAppetour (www.bonappetour.com), a start-up that lets tourists visit the homes of local hosts for a home-cooked meal. They launched the website last month.
"We were thinking how nice it would be to meet people while travelling and have a meal in their homes. It would be like couch-surfing, but with less commitment," said Ms Vanjre, 22, a Singaporean final-year chemical-engineering student at the National University of Singapore (NUS).
Couch-surfing refers to the practice of travellers staying with a local host for free.
Ms Vanjre and Ms Wihardjo, 21, an Indonesian final-year electrical-engineering student also at NUS, began working on BonAppetour in February.
They were then on a year-long exchange programme at the NUS' Overseas College in Stockholm, Sweden, and entered the idea in various start-up competitions held in Europe.
The venture's concept is similar to couch-surfing networks online: Willing cooks sign up with BonAppetour, giving details such as the sort of meal they can provide and how much it would cost.
Travellers select their destination on the website and information - such as the hosts, their menus, prices, the dates they are available and the number of slots left - will come up. A 15 per cent service fee, which goes to BonAppetour, is tacked on to the cost of the meal.
In February, the two NUS undergraduates won the first prize in a 54-hour "hackathon" called Start-Up Weekend in Milan. The competition sees aspiring entrepreneurs pitching ideas, forming teams and working on the ideas.
One of their teammates was Mr Giovanni Casinelli, 22, who was studying computer engineering in Milan then. The Italian was so intrigued by their business concept that he moved to Singapore in September after he graduated to continue working on BonAppetour.
So far, about 200 home cooks in 30 countries, including Iceland and South Africa, have signed up to host tourists for dinner. Of these, about 20 are from Singapore.
To ensure a safe experience for users of the service, Ms Wihardjo said the trio aim to meet and vet all the hosts who sign up with the website.
The hosts will be assessed based on factors such as hospitality, friendliness and their understanding of local food.
Several unique dining experiences await travellers.
Ms Wihardjo said: "In Barcelona, one host held a tapas-making workshop for us. In Rome, we had dinner on the rooftop of an apartment building where the host set up a tent and a buffet spread of Italian food, so we could watch the sun set as we ate."