Guest Post: What Google and TripAdvisor can’t tell you about great experiences

By Tony Carne, general manager of Urban Adventures

When I went on my first big adventure outside of Europe or Australia in 1996, I didn’t have an email address. I’m pretty sure I’d never logged on to the web and I was too tight to buy a Lonely Planet.

Instead I wrote down the name of three things some friends who had travelled through Central America recommended on a slip of paper and put it inside my passport. That was it – travel planning done. That was only 20 years ago. The shift in such a short amount of time is tectonic.

One of the really great disruptive forces of more recent times is the sharing economy. We all know the companies whose levels of investment and growth have enabled them a level of ubiquity most of us can only dream of. I catch Ubers, I stay in Airbnb’s (and have previously been a host)
and I’m yet to get in a Bla Bla Car – but I really want to!

The question is however, have these brands and their revolutions made travel better than when I went on that trip in 1996? The answer is yes and no.

Let me explain. I’m in my 40’s. I love staying in an apartment in a cool neighbourhood on my travels, but as I often have my 5 year old daughter with me, I’m not going to book a room in someone’s house. No amount of great reviews will ever change that.

As such I generally end up in a “managed” apartment run by what are now known as super hosts. 70% of the time I’m greeted by key locker and let myself in. Sometimes I find a note inside with maybe a couple of tips.

I don’t think I can ever remember a neighbour I’ve met on the stairs say hello or smile. The apartment is almost always amazing for the price paid. As a place to spend a few nights it works for me, but as a travel experience I’d say it is no-where near the dives I stayed in, in Mexico in 1996.

What those places had were people. Likeminded travellers and cool local staff. Before the internet there was this thing called word of mouth. People sat down together, shared knowledge and advice and generally had a lot of fun doing it. The advice I got daily meant I didn’t need more than my piece of paper with 3 words on it. People I met then are still my friends now.

What’s missing from today’s great travel experiences is meeting great people and getting up-to-the-minute advice from locals. This is where we at Urban Adventures believe the new opportunity lies for experience businesses like ours.

Does Google or TripAdvisor really know the best thing to do tomorrow in your hometown based on your interests, the weather, pop-ups and festivals? If not, why would it in another city? That’s why we’ve created our Locals on Tap range of experiences.

We’ve taken the cues from the sharing economy that the great comradery of the hostel common room doesn’t need to happen in a physical space. Instead, we made it into a hosted Meetup tour, something more fluid that allows for spontaneity and flexibility.

Here you can meet a local and other travellers and get tips on anything you like. You might just find a crew to spend the day or evening with. You might just make a friend you still visit 20 years from now and to us –that is where the real magic in travel lies.

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