|SMILING ALBINO TALKS ATYPICAL ASIA TOURS|
|Canadian run tour operator in Thailand offers speciality itineraries and 'back door' experiences|
Fifteen years ago, the government of Thailand invited Daniel Fraser, director, co-founder, Smiling Albino, to work for members of the royal family in Bangkok. He spent one year living and working in the palace, and said that he felt intimately connected to the people and the culture.
|Daniel Fraser, director, co-founder, Smiling Albino
“It was different from being a tourist or an expat,” Fraser said. “It just left a big impression on me and I thought Thailand [was] an amazing treasure trove of discovery that [wasn’t] being done right.”
Fraser later returned to Canada for university and then worked in advertising in Calgary for a few years. However, the "burning desire for Thailand overflowed."
“I got on a plane with a good friend of mine (Scott Coates, director, co-founder, Smiling Albino), and went to Bangkok for the sole intention of creating a travel company and delivering experiences to people that they couldn’t possibly do on their own,” he said. “We wanted to create a company that did active travel for the Canadian, upper-middle market.”
According to Fraser, he and Coates moved to Thailand with nothing and spent a few years living simply; cycling, hiking, motorcycling around East Asia, meeting people and trying to put together a network.
“Everything was from a freelance basis,” Fraser said. "We were very home grown and intimate... Because of the organic side of the company, it has enabled me and my business partner to enhance our profiles in the travel industry.”
Now, the tour operator has an office staff of 12 people, a field staff of 24, and offers dozens of trips throughout the year to five different locations: Thailand, Nepal, Cambodia, Vietnam and Tibet.
The name, Smiling Albino, was inspired by Thailand’s culture. Fraser said that the country is called the land of smiles, and the Albino elephants are sacred symbols of the Thai monarchy. Therefore, they chose two words that would represent their ties to Thailand, as well as something that would be different and memorable.
The company offers mostly active tours with stays in semi-luxury hotels. The itineraries include family trips, customized tours, and active adventures.
“People that come [to East Asia] have usually travelled the world and are looking for something specific,” Fraser said. “People that [experience our trips] come back because they [leave an impression] on them spiritually."
Fraser said that Smiling Albino gives travellers highlights through the back door; meaning it doesn’t offer typical trips. It strives to connect people to local cultures and the experience. Fraser also said that Thailand is the favoured location, but multi-county trips are also popular due to the destinations' proximity to one another.
“We do a lot of milestone adventures such as anniversaries, birthdays and bucket lists," Fraser said. "It’s for people that don’t want a [regular] trip. It’s for those that want to learn, grow, experience and see one of the most culturally interesting locations on earth.”
Fraser said that the locations are fascinating because they’re exotic, they offer authentic cuisine, and they’re culturally and artistically beautiful.
“There’s peacefulness and a sense of calm, [as well as] tolerance and beauty that people are drawn to," Fraser said. "You mix those things and you have a world class destination with versatile locations."
“We started without any experience in travel at all,” Fraser added. “[But], we went in, two Canadian guys, and did it the way that we wanted to do it. We wanted to build trips that we thought were worthy. That has given us respect and it’s something that sets Smiling Albino apart.”
Fraser said that the company is planning to expand its locations to Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and possibly Indonesia, in the next few years.
“We are only going to do [something] if we feel that [travellers] will get value,” he said. “Canadians are attracted to real travel and are a phenomenal market for that because it’s what they connect and respond to.”
For complete details of the itineraries, visit smilingalbino.com.