Tourists can experience private audio tours while socially distanced. Photo by Joshua Earle.
A new platform called AddYourTour enables travel enthusiasts an opportunity to contribute and earn from their stories while quarantined at home.
Like all tour guides, Angelina’s career came to a screeching halt when the Coronavirus pandemic hit her hometown of Plovdiv, Bulgaria, with massive force. Being a guide was not merely a job but a passion. “Everyone knows the common stories about the destinations that they visit, but after I show them around, it’s the hidden treasures and authentic stories that they remember when they return,” she says. “That, to me, is the most rewarding part of being a guide.” But all that knowledge stopped being shared thanks to COVID-19. Luckily, Angelina found another outlet for her stories about the locations she tours.
Halfway across the globe, someone else was sorely missing the adventures of travel as well. A self-quarantined travel enthusiast and entrepreneur named Igor Ilyinsky found himself with a lot of free time when his regular business slowed down to a trickle. Fresh off of a trip to Italy with his wife and daughters, he was devastated to cancel their next trip to Hawaii. “We love to travel as a family, but we don’t enjoy the crowds, so we tend to explore later when the megaphones disperse.” That’s when the idea for a virtual tour guide hit him. “I thought: ‘wow, it will be a long time before people tour in big crowds again’.” So Igor used his newly found time to kickstart a passion project devoted to enabling anyone to freely and safely tour anyplace in the world, and benefit from the stories gathered by guides like Angelina, in any language they prefer.
“I evaluated my options,” Angelina says. “I considered writing a book or taking on some freelance travel writing jobs. But when I heard about Igor’s project, it was like the perfect place to store my passion for travel and touring for so many more people to benefit from than I could ever reach alone.” Even during the high-season, Angelina would do only one or two tours a day with no more than ten people on each trip. But with Igor’s platform, that number would jump to hundreds of people every day at some of the more popular destinations. While that is undoubtedly gratifying, which may be enough for Angelina, there is also an intention for financial benefit. The app and tours will likely be free, but advertisements will also support them. So contributors can earn a profit share from the trips they’ve submitted. Each tour will be a compilation of one-minute audio clips, and advertisements will play between some of them. The more tours one submits, and the more populated the tour area, the better opportunity there is to earn.
As he explains, “Financially, the math is very different from a typical tour guide operation. You may only earn a dollar for every 100 tours that are consumed. But if 500 consumed in a day, that’s $5 for that one day. Still not so good for a day’s worth of work, but if you consider that after that first day, you don’t have to go to work anymore, but you can continue to earn $5 every day on just a few minutes of audio created from your text, you start to realize the incentive to write some great tours.” The system also has an appreciation mechanism, where users can “like” their favorite tours, which helps contributors earn even more, much like contributors do on YouTube.
It seems Angelina isn’t the only one that sees the potential in this new platform. Carlo was starting a tour guide company in Quito, Ecuador, when the pandemic hit. He, and about fifty others, have also decided to contribute their stories. Some of the contributors are not even touring guides, but only researchers and copywriters. “I’ve never been to Paris, but I am fascinated by the stories about it.” said one contributor from Serbia. “I collected the information that I found on various websites and news articles, located the places on a map, and submitted it. I am hopeful that the contribution will one day earn me the opportunity to visit IRL (in real life)”.
“It is that simple,” says Igor. “Just go to addyourtour.com, and the system gives you the tools to create a written tour script in any language, and it will produce the audio files, translate it into over twenty languages, and deliver it to the user.” They will even provide training, review, and guidance to ensure your tours are as good as they can be. “We want only the most interesting and enjoyable content. Otherwise, no one will care.” And even at this early stage, contributors can be rewarded by being offered exclusivity to create tours for an area. Igor puts it this way… “In general, our algorithm will allow the best tours to outrank the lesser ones. But if you think about how many more people will visit the Eiffel Tower than the North Korean Monument to Party Founding. For which of the two would you prefer not to have any competitors?”
In that, the real challenge is identifying exotic hidden gems in generally well-populated areas. When asked if he had any suggestions, Igor’s answer was straightforward: “Yes! Everywhere.” Time is of the essence, so Igor is encouraging contributors to start adding whatever tours interest them without worrying about the location. “Your first tour will not be your best work anyway, so don’t try to find the perfect place. That will be for your fourth or fifth tour, once you have a great feel for the system and methods. People are everywhere, and when the pandemic is over, all they will want to do is go places. Anywhere and Everywhere!” The system does allow you to see where other tours exist, however, which helps guides avoid competing with each other. But ultimately, the earlier you contribute, the more beneficial it may be.
But Igor is also quick to point out that “… it’s not for everyone. Many potential contributors were very excited about the project but only willing to work for a fee. In some cases, we were able to pay them a nominal amount, but then they don’t get the benefit of sharing the profits. It’s probably more profitable for us that way. Maybe I would pay everyone if I could, but that would take a lot of money that I don’t have. That’s also not democratic, as I would be biased towards the content I paid for, and it’s not why I started this project. I did it so I could travel (one day) and hear the amazing stories that our guides contribute, which were selected by our users. Of course, that will require money to do, but my currency is time and travel. I’ll take them over money.” Surely, he’s hoping this is a good use of his time (and money). But as Igor likes to misquote the mogul Warren Buffet: “The rich invest their time, while the poor trade it for money. One day I hope to meet all of our contributors to celebrate our time and travel riches in person”. That ambition, of course, only has a world crisis standing in the way.