Can Heygo be the future of travel?

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I recently traveled around colorful Singapore Joo Chiat a neighborhood with Alvin, her houses painted with non-witch blue, peach, butter yellow and mustard. Two days before I was in Montmartre with Florent, the Parisian art district on the hill. It was a short time ago snow monkeys and hot springs in Nagano, Japan with Erik. That is not all. I also visited Gaudí’s fantastic Parc Guell in Barcelona with Pepus, a Slovenian calm Lake Bohinj with Mojca, night lighting in the middle of stone bridges and canals Used with Stephan and a Christmas market in Budapest so Zsuzsi.

But I have a secret. I sit on the couch, blissfully free from the risk of COVID, airfare, hotel costs, and worries about checking the latest test restrictions, masks, and quarantines. Yes, just me and a glass of wine, people. I travel further Hi, a website where professional travel guides in more than 90 countries broadcast live tours while walking and talking. You can chat (write your questions in the column on the right), click to get free “postcards” and, if you want, tip ($ 5 and up), if you want, via Paypal. Startup distributes tipping revenue with its guides. If you want to have your own “watching party”, share the link with your friends.

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It is a sophisticated and safe way for tourist guides to earn a living at a time when tourists are often few or non-existent due to a pandemic. In addition, Heygo allows tourist guides to promote themselves when travel will be easier again and people want to book personal experiences. The range of excursions is huge, from a cooking class in Hanoi and a walk around Machu Picchu to making origami in Japan and studying the history of World War II in Berlin. Choose the countries and cities you want, or categories like art and architecture, taste it, off the beaten track or history. If you “follow” your favorite guides, you will receive notifications of their upcoming tours. Heygo will also suggest trips based on your past trips and preferences.

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Disadvantages? Too little to mention, but I’ll list them anyway. The tours take place in real time, they are not recorded, which may mean a Saturday tour of Jaipur, the Indian “Pink City” at 6:15 or a tour of 3:15 Crazy rich Asians a movie environment (a real-life monastery) in your time zone. The social-style platform means a constant stream of questions (relevant and irrelevant), emoticons with hearts and thumbs up, personal memories of past trips, comments and shouts of guests they remembered from past trips (“Hello Tom in Toronto!”), Which they often appear every few minutes or even seconds. As a guest, I find constant distraction annoying. As a guide, it would drive me crazy.

In Japan, Eriko Shiratori, who has her own travel agency in Tokyo, likes to do virtual tours of Heygo. “I plan to continue to offer trips to Heygo even after the travel ban is lifted,” he says. “I joined in April 2021 as a way to connect with the world during a pandemic. I had no idea that I would be part of a loving community that feels like a big family. It’s my life’s work now. “

Her show of snow monkeys at Jigokudani Monkey Park, a mountainous area in central Japan with the country’s 28 highest mountains, is enchanting. Here, monkeys, often associated with chewing bananas in a tropical climate, happily enjoy a spa day in the hot springs. Some make snowballs, others sit on ledges, nervously watching the steam rise from the water, and others are in family groups.

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Shiratori, who grew up in her great-grandfather’s kimono studio (at the age of 20, was licensed to teach how to wear a kimono), says: “Japan is far away and a little exotic. country for many viewers. I realized that I had never seen Japanese culture as unique or beautiful – it was too normal for me. On my tours, I try to share various aspects of Japanese culture, the hidden meaning behind them and their importance in society. ” cherry blossom season, is a series of three cities whose guides represent clouds of pink flowers in Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo.

In Singapore, Alvin Yapp walks past many of the 800 well-preserved shops and terrace houses, decorated with European-style decorative edging, such as egg and arrow moldings and the Ionian and Corinthian columns at Joo Chiat. It discusses how the heritage district is the center of Peranakan culture, descendants of mostly Chinese but also Indian immigrants who married Malaysian women centuries ago and have different identities, as well as food, crafts and traditions. He also eats. In the first minute he consumes a commanders, fried shrimp pancakes, which are street snacks in southern India, and a popiah, when we watch paper-thin pancakes cooked in a pan, then stuffed with vegetables, rolled and sliced ​​in iconic restaurants with these local specialties.

Live tours are significantly different from real-world tours. “Participants’ expectations are very different, as is the style of presentation and storytelling. In virtual tours, the main focus is storytelling, while subjects and insights complement what is being told, ”says Yapp, who once lived and worked in San Francisco. A lot of juggling is required. “Stable camera control, creative shooting, answering and managing comments and questions, interaction with guests and local people must be well coordinated and flawless, because the attention of guests is short. The personality, enthusiasm and alert nature of the host are key. “

Virtual tours initially “shook his nerves.” But he caught up and created virtual tours and master classes The Intan, a museum house in Joo Chiat full of Peranakan antiques he has collected over the past 30 years, from porcelain with a floral pattern, rosewood furniture, women’s beaded slippers to the filigree silver where he lived, as well as for Heyga. The young-looking Yapp even came up with a web game about his culture, Peranakanland. “It’s easy to look young when you’re standing next to Peranakan antiques,” he jokes.

Josep “Pepus” Picazo, a licensed tourist guide in Barcelona with 25 years of experience, met several tourists in his city, who for the first time underwent free virtual tours of Heygo. “I’m the first to do this new travel format because I like to show Barcelona to people around the world who can’t travel, aren’t physically able to travel, or don’t have the resources or income.” who look at you embarrassingly when they see you walking and talking to yourself ”because“ I like new challenges ”.

The founders of Heygo, a London company launched in summer 2020 by Canadian John Tertan and Briton Liam Garrison, say their live tour is not intended to replace travel, but to encourage travel. culture thanks to the “economy of passion”.

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