Back in the day, I was passing through San Antonio, TX with a band, and we played this show. The guy who put on the show was a local impresario, and, knowing this, we said, “Hey man, take us to the best Mexican restaurant in all of San Antonio!” He said, “Sure!” And off we went.
We drove by a really amazing-looking Mexican restaurant. And another. And another. And another. We were famished – why didn’t we stop? An HOUR and, I swear, 56 amazing-looking restaurants later, we finally went to one. And it ruled. I mean, I bet the other ones would have been good, but this one – this was the kind of place only a local would know about. Somebody (me?) should tell him about ToursByLocals.
ToursbyLocals is a tour guide-finding service, brokering adventures between thrill-seeking “customers” with experienced, local guides. It’s the straw that stirs the adventure-drink. It’s a match-maker, like eHarmony without the regret, sadistic in-laws, and canceled wedding (the mariachi band was bummed.) From a thrill-seeking customer perspective, it’s simple: register as a traveler to get access to all these smart locals, find your tour guide, and off you go. And for tour guides, it’s super-cool: make money giving tours of the places you know best. There’s also a nifty free-market twist: Tours are priced per tour, not per person, and travelers are encouraged to rate their tour and tour guide at the conclusion of the tour. So let’s take a…tour (of the site)…eh?
The first thing I did was register as a traveller. I was taken to My Account page, where I could see my upcoming tours, tours awaiting my rating and comments, and tours I’ve added to my wish list. I could also check my messages and purchase history. So then it was time to find my tour (below.) A map of the world popped up showing where they had tours. It was pretty impressive – they have tours everywhere! They’re like McDonald’s. Due to my soft spot for former penal colonies, I clicked on Australia. Then a map of Australia popped up with its five states (provinces? territories?) There were green dots where there were available tours, and just as I hoped, the city popped up when I rolled the mouse over the circle. I clicked on the Gold Coast tour and was taken to the tour, where I learned about the region itself, the Guide, the rating, the price, and the duration of the guide. And lastly, I could book it with the click of a button.
And then there’s the the really cool part of TourbyLocals: the ability to sign up as a tour guide and make cash doing what you love. I clicked on the Become A Guide link, which, along with a helpful three-minute video, provided all the basics. It’s also worth noting that, in their own words, “ToursByLocals only makes money when you do. We charge no upfront or ongoing fees – only a percentage of actual bookings.” This incentivizes the tour guide to put together a compelling package, a high rating, and repeat business. All in all, the site was extremely easy to navigate, particularly as someone interested in booking a tour or becoming a guide. My only qualm – and it’s minor – is this: on the top navigation bar, I’d add “Register” to encourage folks to register as travellers. As of now – as far as I can see – the only place to do it is on the home page, bottom-left. That said, failure to register isn’t an impediment to searching for tours, so that is good.
Ultimately, ToursbyLocals serves a wonderful purpose. No one knows their home town like a local. And where this service can be extremely successful is when it comes to smaller, off-the-map places. Sure, it’s easy to find a tour of New York City or San Francisco, but there are neat, little towns – college towns, for example, for prospective students – that can be very well-represented by locals on the ground. After all, we make some of the biggest decisions of our lives based on seemingly inconsequential matters. I chose my college because the campus was nice. I know people who move to neighborhoods because of good restaurants. And if Mexican food is your thing, I got a great, future ToursbyLocals-guide in San Antonio who you should call.