5 years ago

Hey, tour guide, you are fired!

NB: This is a guest article by Dave Elchoness and Angus Shee, co-founders of Tagwhat.

Traditional tour guides have made a living for centuries sharing the stories about locations.

In some cultures, there is a rich history of telling these narratives only through the spoken word. But now that there are billions of pages of web content with every imaginable story about a location, isn’t there a more efficient way to deliver this information?

With beautiful, location-aware devices like the Galaxy S3 and the iPhone 5 stapled to our palms, interesting stories about the world around us should just pop up everywhere we go.

Hey, Robert Redford used to work as a custodian at that pizza joint down the street. Also, they’ve got happy hour in 20 minutes.


Hey, the “I’ll have what she’s having scene” from When Harry Met Sally was filmed at Katz’s Deli over there. Here’s the movie clip and place an order for a massive pastrami sandwich while you’re at it.

Best… tour guide… ever.

So why isn’t everyone running into Dumb & Dumber scenes or cool historic stories while eating half-priced tapas wherever they go?

Because the web isn’t organized by location. The volumes of interesting stories, blogs, videos, and social media we’ve created over the past 20 years aren’t geo-tagged. The When Harry Met Sally video clip doesn’t know it belongs at Katz’s Deli.

But today, products like Google Field Trip and others, like our service, are making it possible to geo-tag the web and deliver this content at real-world locations. These companies are giving mobile users instant access to actionable content in the context of their daily lives.

For traditional tour guides, this means your customers might actually have more information at their fingertips than you do.

Even so, there’s a tremendous opportunity to help your customers navigate through the stories you find most interesting. Weave your own narrative supplemented by the vivid images, video, and audio that these products deliver and become the curator of your neighborhood.

For customers who haven’t heard of geo-tagging tools, you will be their knight in tech savvy armor. And thanks to you, they’ll have a powerful tool to take everywhere they go.

Getting content to the right people at the right place and time.

B2C marketers are spending 28% of their budgets on content marketing (blogs, social media, articles, videos, etc). And a staggering 90% of small businesses actively post on Facebook.

But none of this content reaches the real-world locations where people are most likely to act. Now, organizations, businesses, and tour guides can tether their content to real-world locations. They can add Facebook pages, Twitter streams, and Foursquare pages to their geo-tagged content.

After all, people are much more inclined to “like” your Facebook page, follow you on Twitter, and engage your brand if you’re delivering valuable content in the context of where they are and what they’re doing.

Already, universities, media companies, bloggers, destination marketers, small businesses, and local publications have started using these products to re-purpose their content and drive real-world engagement at the places they’re responsible for.

Exploring the world’s interesting stories has never been easier.

Now don’t get me wrong, it can be extremely comforting to have the warm presence of a local guide with you everywhere you go. Companies like 500 Startups’ Vayable, Techstars’ SideTour, and Keith Petri’s iGottaGuide (whose experience was well-covered in Tnooz) can (or could) help you out.

But there’s no denying that the way we access the web is changing.

Organizations with content on one hand and physical destinations on the other, like tour guides, need to ask themselves how people are finding their content in the real-world.

If the answer is: “They’ll just google my website”, or something similar. Then, it’s time to re-think your approach.

Desktop tools will not survive in a mobile world. Mobile users want content experiences at their fingertips. No thinking, just there.

The good news is, they’ll act. Let us remember that 94% of smartphone users search for local information and nine out of ten of these searches result in action.

NB: This is a guest article by Dave Elchoness and Angus Shee, co-founders of Tagwhat.

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About the Writer :: Viewpoints

A founding principle of tnooz was a diversity of viewpoints from across the spectrum. Viewpoints are articles by guest contributors from around the travel and hospitality industries. The views expressed are the views and opinions of the author and do not reflect or represent the views of his employer, tnooz, its writers, or partners.



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  1. Mary Mcgreevey

    I’m a full time tourguide since 1996 here in San francisco. It has been interesting to see the rise of very annoying cell phones. They have been now replaced with people on smartphones either googling or texting as we go along. What strikes me is the way the huge selection of information can confound a visitor to say, Napa. They can be blitzing through so many websites of wineries and become very confused. It is Really information overload. So when I am now the driver guide listening to their random questions about this or that they’ve just dug up, it gets tough to tell them that the place they want is too far away driving wise or time wise, that it requires reservations and warrants a long visit, not a blitz drive by, and in general, the tourist becomes like a child with so many toys he cannot think. Too many choices!! That is why more mature tourists leave it to a tourguide to chose the stops.

    If a person wants to do everything on his own as I always did in Europe, there is a lot that will be missed and especially the back stories. I had a great time because I was young and adventurous , but real knowledge I had little. That I gained more when I got back to the states and started reading about all the places I had been.

    Now that I do this work so long, I think the real tourist simply does not want to think at all. Relax and forget reality. No more self-service. That is what they are paying for!

  2. Ron Hodson

    I’ll also agree that tour guides won’t be going away, but I understand the point the author is highlighting – technology and information sources are getting closer to being able to answer the question of “what’s the story” about the places we visit.

    We’ve actually been working on this for a while, and we have our own solution (we connect people to the stories in the media about places), but there is certainly no single solution that satisfies everyones needs.

    For instance, for tour guides you have access to instant feedback and better situational awareness, but tour guides at the destination can’t help you decide whether you should go there before you get there. Tour guides also don’t usually exist outside of high traffic areas, so that is the area where the new technologies will be able to provide the most unique coverage.

    There is a middle area too, which is the media. The media loves telling us about unique and interesting places, but the challenge has always been how to remember those media stories and how to remember the places they talk about.

    Overall though I think we’re adding more solutions, but the question remains whether one solution will be all that’s needed, or if there will always be a need for the “human touch” (i.e. the tour guide)?

  3. Francoise

    Yes, that headline is a bit misleading. I agree that technology plays a role and must be embraced but don’t forget that not all countries are created equal in terms of bandwidth and technology. Many developing countries are lagging behind and in some countries it is just too expensive and/or slow. For the moment.

    A tour guide also provides safety tips and educated/personal advice which no app will do well.

    One of the things that my clients like most about the tours we conduct is the personal anecdotes provided by our guides – again, no app can do that.

    Last point: in a country like South Africa (where I am) we have a rich and complex recent history which is of interest to most visitors. Our guides are asked about this history by most clients, and these conversations can sometimes continue on and off throughout a tour of several days. Whilst an app might point to a building and say “Nelson Mandela was here”, there is no replacing the in-depth discussions that are conducted on the same topic.

    • Mary Beth Stone

      It is not an accident that there are 2,500 licensed tour guides in New York City. The reason? There is absolutely no substitute for a live human being!

      • Dave Elchoness

        Mary Beth,

        Thanks so much for the comment! There is no question that there is a demand for tour guides. Otherwise we wouldn’t be in business! We firmly believe, however, that these 2,500 tour guides would benefit from a mobile companion offering additional information, multimedia, and links to ‘more.’

    • Dave Elchoness


      Thanks for the comment! We certainly agree that human tour guides offer an incredibly valuable insights about places. All we would say is that technology will increasingly play a role, even without respect to personal and in-depth discussions. Tour guides would be well-advised, we believe, to consider technology as complementary to their services.

  4. Alex Bainbridge

    If the headline was “hey travel guide writer” you are fired, maybe…. But tour guides……. nooo!

    Information augments humans, not replaces them…… and besides, tour guides do so much more than just spiel information – otherwise audio-guides would have replaced them long time ago…..

    • Dave Elchoness

      Hi Alex! Thanks for the comment! We agree. Tour guides do much more than simply spiel information, which is why we applaud Vayable and others. That said, there is no disputing that the Web is on its way to being ‘merged’ with location (in a way that will be much more impactful than audio guides.) What’s a human tour guide to do? Master the technology. Become a curator of location. Weave the Web experience into the human one for a richer result.


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