WHAT happens when friends share a love of travel and entrepreneurial instincts? They travel together and start their own travel business.

Sarah Pacquing and Dominic Aniban, who were then in their mid-20s, met in 2010 during a trip to Davao. Both discovered that they love to wander, and eventually decided to start their own travel agency, a business initially created only to fund their travel goals.

In June 2013, they registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) using the name Happy Juanderer Travel, a play on the words “wander” and “Juan,” which is often used to represent the Filipino.

Like most businesses, they started small. As a travel agency, they did what the others were doing, selling tours, tickets, and accommodations, while both were also busy with their respective family businesses.

“We found no love and passion in that (retailing tours and tickets). There’s no hands-on experience, no interaction with clients, and no quality control from the tour handlers,” said Sarah, now 30.

It was not until they discovered a destination, mostly unfamiliar to travelers about three to four years ago, that Happy Juanderer found its niche, in the southern part of Cebu.

Today, however, southern Cebu has become a popular attraction for local and foreign tourists alike, from its beaches and waterfalls, to land and watersport activities, which include trekking, canyoneering, and swimming with whale sharks.

“We discovered a potential for South Cebu after having friends complain that there’s nothing interesting in Cebu. It was a challenge for us in the travel business to execute something new and out of the ordinary to attract more visitors to come or come back to Cebu,” Sarah recalled.

Seeing opportunities in this territory, the business partners researched about the place and spent most of their weekends in the south, until they came up with a South Cebu itinerary, which they marketed as Project Suroysuroy.

Project Suroysuroy is a one to three-day trip to popular destinations and activities in the South, including Osmeña Peak, Oslob Cuartel, whale shark diving in Oslob, Tumalog Falls, Sumilon Island, island-hopping in Moalboal, Kawasan Falls, and canyoneering in Badian.

Looking south

“It was through this itinerary that we got deeply involved with the locals and the destinations. Being able to create something extraordinary for travelers while being able to help uplift the livelihood of the locals inspired us to work better and bigger,” said Sarah.

When it comes to southern Cebu tours, Happy Juanderer is one of the most recommended tour operators, evident in their excellent reviews in the travel reviews site TripAdvisor. “We have a stronghold in South Cebu tours because, confidently speaking, we believe it was Happy Juanderer Travel who pioneered the South Cebu itinerary,” she added.

Other than Cebu, Happy Juanderer Travel also offers inbound local and domestic tours to Bohol and Ilocos.

While the travel business already has a big and growing number of players, Happy Juanderer separates itself from the rest with its “quality service,” noted Sarah, being a traveler herself who only wants the best experience in her dream destinations.

“We study the market and seek improvements that will help us deliver better services every time. We always try to set the trend. Nowadays, there’s quite a number of operators but what distinguishes Happy Juanderer Travel is the quality of service we provide,” she said.

One of the most pressing challenges in the travel business today is the price war among travel agencies and tour operators to entice more customers. Instead of seeing this as a problem, Sarah said this helped them find innovative ways to adjust their rates so they could compete, without comprising services.

Today, the tour operator has six people on board who run and manage the operations, plus a network of resident guides and coordinators for each local destination they serve. Its corporate office is located in Candon City in Ilocos Sur and by the end of July, it will open an office along D. Jakosalem St. in Cebu City.

In the next five years, Happy Juanderer envisions to become “the best and biggest” adventure tour provider in Central Visayas.

Sarah, who participated in the second batch of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Cebu’s e-commerce mentorship program early this year, found linkages with her co-participants from the region that would allow them to develop a travel itinerary for Bohol, Siquijor, and Negros Oriental.