Biz4all. English-Language Tours of Minsk by the Heta Belarus, Dzietka! Team: Positive Image of Belarus

Hanna Hrydziushka came to the EU-funded Biz4all Social Incubator Entrepreneurship programme with the initiative to organize English-language tours of Minsk within the framework of Heta Belarus, Dzietka! project. It is an in-demand line of business which does not have a lot of competition at the moment. Its main social mission is to promote the culture of Belarus in Europe, promote the positive image of our country abroad and break down negative stereotypes. The target audience is not just young people but European retirees as well.

It all started with the book

The Heta Belarus, Dzietka! project was initiated two years ago by Maria Charakova and Marta Charnova. The girls were both born in Belarus but lived abroad with their parents for a long time, in the Netherlands and the USA. When they came back to their home country as university students, many things that are seemingly normal to locals, to them seemed weird and unexpected. For example, Maria recalls, two-week hot water shut-offs in summer or going for a wash in a village bath house. They started a blog in English about this. When they had enough material, they decided to publish an eponymous book. The two bloggers took their idea to Harvest, one of the biggest publishing agencies in Belarus, and got approved: their book went to press very soon. The first run of 2000 copies sold out very soon: within a couple of months, the book became a bestseller at oz.by and then in the Belkniga chain.

Maria Charakova and Marta Charakova at the The Heta Belarus, Dzietka! book presentation, Minsk, November 2017  Photo: Vitaly Brazousky

 

Hanna joined the team only a year later. She responded to a job posting and went through the interview process. It was then decided to develop this line of work further and go into tourism. They started by making an arrangement with Viapol, a travel agency from Minsk, which brings a lot of foreigners to Belarus. Then the Biz4all programme was launched, and Hanna decided that it was important to take part in the trainings to improve business skills. At the same time, they were working on Minsk in Socks, a travel guide about Minsk for foreigners. You can read more about the project here: Make Yourself at Home in Minsk: Travel Guide "Minsk in Socks" on our website.

Hanna Hrydziushka (on the left) at the First Belarusian Social Business Forum, 28.06.2017, Minsk Photo: Vitaly Brazousky

 

Tours with a twist to develop a positive image of Belarus in Europe

Originally, the  girls had already designed a tour of Minsk, where foreigners were shown around unhackneyed corners of the Belarusian capital, for example, Komarovsky market or the Soviet-style Minsk. Hanna came to Biz4all with the idea to realize a five-day tour of the capital including a trip to the country. However, in the course of trainings and seminars, as well as goal-setting exercises proved that they should think more locally, focus on a shorter period of time but expand the programme. “In the end, I decided that each day of the already-developed five-day programme could also be arranged as a separate one-day tour. We have recently taken a group of Dutch people to the Zabrodye estate in Vileyka district, and they loved this kind of rural vacation with a local flavour. The estate occupies a large territory, and the married couple who owns it do their best to treat their guests with utmost attention, offering them many opportunities for travelers to relax. They have their own museum of working retro technology, the only First World War museum in the CIS, a 200-year-old bathhouse, and hold their own culinary master classes”.

The tours organized by the Heta Belarus, Dzietka! team earn by receiving a percentage of costs of an organized program. At the moment Anna is looking for several tour guides who know how to present information in an interesting and modern way, speak good English and have a sense of humour.

Hanna Hrydziushka and Stanly Van Ree at the Biz4all training "Crowdfunding for Social Startups", 23.04.2017, Minsk  Photo: Alyona Lis

 

Hanna did not really communicate that much with Valery Suchkou, their mentor and representative of the Belarusian diaspora from the Netherlands, but she stresses that everything he said was on point and they followed every piece of advice he gave them. For example, he advised them to target not just young people but also European retirees. They have a lot of their time on their hands and money to spend, and they love traveling but are already sick and tired of most popular European tourist destinations.

Valery Suchkou, Biz4all mentor of The Heta Belarus, Dzietka! project
Photo: personal archive

Tips for successful crowdfunding

No crowdfunding campaign for the tours was organized within the framework of Biz4all assignments. "We do not need to raise money for the tours, because this business is not costly, so it can cover all its expenses. However, we were simultaneously writing the Minsk in Socks guide, and we needed money to finish it”. About a month ago, the project team led a successful crowdfunding campaign for the Minsk in Socks guide. In just a month, the girls raised 15,000 euros on the international kickstarter.com platform by selling 300 books. A number of tours were also sold, as all of the team’s projects complement each other and contribute to creating a positive image of Belarus among foreign tourists – who, by the way, are becoming more and more numerous in our country after the five-day free visa regime has been introduced.

Hanna recalls that in the thirty campaign days she lost several kilograms, and then had to take an unplanned holiday to recover. However, they did a lot of work and received unique experience, which she is happy to share with other Biz4all participants.

Hanna Gridziushka at the Biz4all training “Customer Discovery” in Minsk  Photo: Vitaly Brazousky

 

Tips from Hanna Gridziushka on how to have a successful crowdfunding campaign:

  • 2-3 months before starting the fundraising campaign, you need to start actively engaging, establishing contacts and making arrangements with the media for the future. I discovered that European mass media with their very busy schedules plan for several months ahead, so it was quite difficult to get publicity for the project without such advance preparation.
  • Try setting smaller amounts in the packages. Surely, your calculations must be based on real costs. For example, our total of 15,000 euros was the minimal amount: after deducting all the costs, including salaries of designers and payments to volunteers, we had only 216 euros left.
  • Do not rely on the crowdfunding platform to promote you: only count on your own resources and your marketing efforts.
  • Do not hesitate to reach out to every one during the campaign: ask your friends, acquaintances and colleagues to share information about the project.
  • Try all types of advertising and focus solely on achieving individual results. For example, we got nowhere trying to advertise through Facebook, but free Google adverts worked perfectly.


The three parallel projects complement one another and help expand their contacts. For example, during the fundraising campaign for the guide they made arrangements with several Dutch travel agencies that offer tours to Belarus and are now in the process of negotiations to offer Heta Belarus, Dzietka! tours to them. There is no doubt that each and every tourist, seeing Belarus through the yes of the girls from the team, will love the country and discover it from a new and unique perspective. They will want to come back here again and again.

Text by: Valerya Nikalaychyk

The goal of the programme is to develop a package of social entrepreneurship training programmes in Russian using innovative international practices, as well as the experience of Belarusian diaspora representatives who have become successful entrepreneurs in European Union countries and the USA.

 

The publication was prepared within the framework of the "Social Entrepreneurship Incubator", implemented by ODB Brussels in partnership with TNU Network University (Netherlands), Belarusian Youth Public Union "New Faces" and International Civil Association "Union of Belarusian of the world “Motherland", with the fiancial support from the European Union.