The tourism industry has been particularly hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing travel shut down. Some enterprising tour companies have turned to offering online virtual travel tours to those of us eager for new experiences as we shelter in place.
Wine With Our Family recently had the opportunity to chat with Withlocals, a Dutch-based tour company that offers private history, food, and other tours with local hosts in 50 cities. The company launched a virtual program, Withlocals LIVE, in March 2020 in response to the pandemic.
Wine With Our Family: What has it been like pivoting to virtual travel tours?
Withlocals: When Corona expanded to Europe, we quickly closed down all of our face-to-face offerings. As a business, this was a huge decision, because it meant we had to close our most important revenue stream that provided the livelihood of not only 60 employees, but more importantly more than 2,000 hosts. We quickly came together and created a new team to start brainstorming based on our mission - how can we keep on helping passionate locals earn a living with their passion and keep on connecting people and cultures?
We came up with the idea to do livestreams, spoke to some hosts, and then quickly shifted to private online experiences. Within a month we had run six livestreams and launched our first 35 online experiences - as one of the first in the industry. At this moment we have 82 online experiences from 23 countries and we’re adding new ones every week.
WWOF: Which virtual tours have been the most popular?
Withlocals: Cooking classes have been a constant, along with virtual attractions. Earlier tours involving hosts talking about city, travel, and culture were doing really well. People are [also] looking more for knowledge and learning, such as learning a new language or dance that they don't have easy access to in their surroundings. The demand for history and local lifestyle tours and music performances is here to stay.
WWOF: Have there been any unexpected outcomes?
Withlocals: [Hosts] Giada and Loris from Venice had so many bookings [for their tiramisu cooking class] that they were overloaded with tiramisu. They shared the tiramisu with their neighbours and took [a lot of it] to an elderly home to surprise the residents.
Our host Dulshan in Sri Lanka earned 5,000 euro in 24 hours after Trip Advisor sent a newsletter that featured his cooking class. After all the online classes he made enough curry for his whole street to eat for the next two weeks. In his own words: “It’s crazy. Now getting bookings at 5am. You can’t believe how much this is changing my life.…There are no words to describe.”
WWOF: Will you continue to offer virtual travel tours once everything goes back to “normal'?
Withlocals: Yes. We are currently brainstorming various ideas of merging the two worlds of offline and online experiences together. The focus is on a short-term strategy as well as long-term strategy when Corona is less prevalent in the world.
An example of this can be planning your tour with your host online before coming to the city. Guests have tons of travel-related questions about their next destination, like where to eat, what to see, and what cool activities there are. Locals want to earn a living with their passion for their city and their skill. By connecting the two before the trip, we believe we can provide an even better solution than what existed before. It would be one of the most significant changes in the tours and activities branch since the founding of tour aggregation sites.
We hope you enjoyed this wine chat about Withlocals’ experience in launching virtual travel tours. We have been enjoying online travel tours and look forwarding to resuming in-person ones.
Have any feedback? Don’t hesitate to send us a message at email@example.com.
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Photos courtesy of Withlocals. This interview was edited for length and clarity.