Interview: Experience holiday destinations like a local with SideTour

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Liftshare is all about going places while making unforgettable social connections on the road, and that’s why the wonderful SideTour is next in our series of sharing economy interviews.

In short: it’s a tour company that offers guided trips across various global locations, as well as memorable experience days. The caveat is that all of the tour guides are local residents and experts who have offered up their time on the SideTour site.

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So not only do you get a very real, non-commercial insight into your holiday destination, you can also get to know local people, share stories and see sides of a foreign location you won’t find in tour books. If you want to experience another country as a resident, this is how you do it.

We spoke with SideTour’s Rachel Goldberg, who told us that CEO and co-founder Vipin Goyal brainstormed the concept with his wife after quitting his job to travel around the world. Their almost seredipitous interactions with locals seeded the concept, and in August 2011 the company was launched on WordPress with only tours of New York City on offer.

Today, the site is a heart-warming place to visit, with a wealth of fun and social activites that verge on the ‘bucket list’ side of cool at times.

A quick search reveals such days out as learning to roll your own sushi in San Francisco with Japanese suushi chef Kaz Matsune, booking a private jazz gig in Boston with acclaimed local artists Agachiko, and walking the finest graffitti Dallas has to offer with renowned artist Jerod DTOX Davies – all for a fee that’s fair.

We were so inspired by SideTour’s alternative and adventurous days out that we simply had to know more. Over to you Rachel…

 

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Liftshare: We’ve already touched on a few things SideTour members have to offer, but can you give us some additional insight into the actual process, along with some more examples.

Rachel: SideTour lets locals discover and book the best their city has to offer—whether it’s tasting wine alongside a master sommelier, hand-rolling pasta with a Michelin-starred chef, or even training next to an Olympic athlete. We find talented individuals behind the best in arts, culture, dining, and more, and curate unique experiences with them that allow users to step into someone else’s shoes.

Experiences usually last an hour and a half to three hours. Since joining the Groupon family in 2013, users can either discover our experiences on the SideTour website or through Groupon.

Liftshare: How closely vetted are hosts before they can post their experience online, and are they largely individuals or do you also see a lot of pickup from local businesses?

Rachel: Hosts come onto the platform in one of two ways: We either reach out to individuals and business owners after discovering them through our own in-depth research, or an individual can reach out to us here. We only contact prospective hosts with proven expertise and industry leadership.

With individuals who reach out to our team and express interest in hosting a SideTour, we always do additional research and schedule a phone call to ensure proper vetting. In terms of the user experience, guest feedback is something we take very seriously.

The feedback you see on our site is something we’re extremely proud of—we don’t edit any of this, and it’s overwhelmingly positive. If a guest does leave feedback indicating a concern, we always follow up on it to ensure that each experience and host is of the highest quality.

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Liftshare: Do you find it takes a special kind of person to come forward and offer their services and expertise as a SideTour host?

Rachel: We often describe SideTour users in terms of a psychographic rather than a specific demographic. We see diversity in terms of age, gender and so on, but what SideTour users have in common is that they are all curious to try something new and embody a sense of empathy, as they are interested in seeing another person’s world or viewpoint.

That probably extends to the sharing economy as a whole. These are all universal human characteristics that can be awakened—a sense of discovery, curiosity, and genuine fascination and caring about the world and people around you.

Liftshare: Can you share with us some of your truly stand-out tours?

Rachel: We’ve had a number of unforgettable events. Some of the most unique: Dine with an investment banker who became a monk, Experience a unique wine tasting with a blind wine expert, Uncover the secrets of the human body at an autopsy seminar, Race down the U.S. Olympic luge track with an Olympic medalist, and Get insider access to Hollywood’s secret weapons depot in Soho.

Liftshare: You definitely wouldn’t get those at any travel agent or tour book – and that’s absolutely a positive thing. Lastly, What would you say the continued rise of the sharing economy means to you?

Rachel: In the sharing economy, the service-providers are also the service-recievers. By being both a provider and a receiver, you realize the benefits more quickly and are more willing to partake in it. There’s less of a wall of formality between the two. Of course, an economy still involves money, and sharing economies seem to be striking that balance between innate philanthropy and business.

Thanks to Rachel for her superb insight into SideTour. Be sure to check them out and let us know what you think below.

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