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Tourism expert finds misson to support Vietnamese start-ups

Update: April, 05/2018 - 09:00
Jason Lusk has talked at many seminars and forums about tourism and marketing. — Photo courtesy of Clickable Vietnam
Viet Nam News

By Minh Thu

When he was a child, a journey north to Canada from his home in Milwaukee was considered serious travelling to Jason Lusk.

So much so, many of the younger minds would believe the 12-drive north was a trip to an amazing and mystical place. That’s the first definition of traveling for Lusk.

That’s when his love of the open road began and he’s nurtured the passion for travelling ever since.

But now he’s settled here, in Việt Nam, and wants to not only live his dreams, but also to support start-ups in the field of tourism in Việt Nam.

Lusk was a former vice president with the American marketing agency Cramer-Krasselt and digital marketing at Microsoft Việt Nam. Now he runs his own marketing agency called Clickable Vietnam.

“I built my career in marketing, but my passion has always been travel and learning more about the world,” he said.

Dream of traveling

Lusk grew up in Milwaukee. It was not the kind of place where a lot of people had passports or travelled abroad, he said.

“We had a few immigrants in our community from Latin America, the Caribbean, and even Laos, and I remember thinking it almost inconceivable they could have travelled so far to live among us,” said Lusk.

“Maybe for that reason, I was always fascinated by the size and diversity of planet earth.”

He had a world map on his bedroom wall, and used to stare at it, memorising the tiniest details.

“I had a probably 20-year-old (at the time) Encyclopedia set, and I used to read all of the entries about various cities and countries around the world that I imagined I’d never be able to visit. I am certain I was the only kid in the 80s in Milwaukee who knew what Bhutan was or where to find it on the map.”

As he was fascinated about the world, he went to university at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service.

He took the first trip overseas when he was 20 to study in London. He spent the holidays backpacking around Europe, and he even made it as far as Marrakech in Morocco.

“From that time on I have been spending all of my spare money on international travel,” he smiled.

Jason Lusk and his team work for the development of Vietnamese tourism industry. — Photo courtesy of Clickable Vietnam

Việt Nam – the destination 

Lusk first visited Việt Nam in late 2011 on a business trip. He fell quickly in love with the place.

“I had travelled to many places around the world, but to be honest a lot of tourist destinations feel like living museums - preserved for posterity and the enjoyment of tourists,” he said.

“Việt Nam is different. Nothing about Việt Nam feels put on. It feels very real and very dynamic – a place that is very much alive and in motion. I found that very exciting.”

That time he was in the midst of a career crisis, having reached the highest position he could reasonably hope to hold at the marketing agency where he was working, Cramer-Krasselt.

One of his friend suggested he should explore opportunities in Việt Nam, and he thought that sounded like a very “Jason Lusk” thing to do. 

“When I founded Clickable Vietnam in 2014 that was my opportunity to combine my professional experience in marketing with my passion for travel. I made tourism marketing one of the company’s specialties.”

He launched the project Mekong Innovative Startups in Tourism (MIST) in 2016 to support start-ups in the field of tourism in the Mekong region.

“Việt Nam is one of the fastest growing destinations for inbound tourism on earth, and the domestic and outbound tourism markets are growing quickly as well. None of that growth should be taken for granted, however,” he said.

“Việt Nam is a fine tourism destination, but let’s not delude ourselves into thinking that it is the unique appeal of Việt Nam that is the primary driver of tourism industry growth.

Jason Lusk has talked at many seminars and forums about tourism and marketing. — Photo courtesy of Clickable Vietnam

“We need fewer tourism entrepreneurs who copy successful businesses, forcing price competition and degrading the tourism experience for everyone. We need more tourism entrepreneurs with unique, innovative, scalable business models that add dynamism and resilience to Việt Nam as a world-class destination.”

That’s the mission of MIST: to show young entrepreneurs that the effort is worth it. Lusk and his team help the start-ups find partners, investors, mentors, and other resources to support their ideas and build successful, defensible businesses.

MIST has been operated for two years. It aims to help Việt Nam maximise its tourism industry potential by nurturing and building connections between all three participants in this ecosystem: the innovative startups, the companies that could someday acquire them, and the investors that help the startups scale in anticipation of an exit. MIST is performing this role regionally, which is important because the industry is also regional and – in some respects – global.

“If we’re successful, real benefits will accrue to Việt Nam and its economy. More innovative tourism products and tools should lead to more arrivals, more per-tourist spending, a higher visitor return rate, and a greater contribution to GDP from the tourism industry,” he said.

Jens Thraenhart, executive director of the Mekong Tourism Co-ordinating Office, highly appreciated the initiative to launch the MIST and considered it as a force for innovation, sustainability, and growth in the region.

“Through this programme, tourism innovators and travel startups will have chance to get paired with investors and industry mentors who can equip them to scale and thrive.”

Lusk married a Vietnamese journalist who interviewed him on branding and social media marketing.

“She is far from the only reason I am so happy here, but she is certainly a big part of it,” he said.

Like many Western managers, he struggled for a long time with how to motivate and retain good people. “But now, with a little experience and a better understanding of how business works in Việt Nam, working with my team is among my greatest pleasures,” he said.

“They are steering the ship now. And they are good captains.” — VNS

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