August 15, 2011
For bemused travelers, touring an exotic country can be less than exotic: a blur of sterile tourist traps, long lines, and overpriced restaurants. But a startup called Shiroube helps tourists have authentic experiences by connecting them with locals offering personalized tours.
“My goal is to connect everybody in the world in a new way,” says cofounder Tatsuo Sato, who has visited over a hundred countries himself.
On one trip to eastern Europe, Sato decided to try something different. He emailed a local student, who offered to give him a tour. And Sato was pleasantly surprised: they visited the student’s former elementary school and local restaurants and clubs that he might not have discovered otherwise–it was “like scenes in movies,” Sato recalls. Along the way, he helped the student practice his Japanese.
On Shiroube, locals can post unique tours like this one, with a description, price, and photos. After working out a deal, travelers might find themselves exploring Ho Chi Minh City by bike, navigating a spice market in Dubai, or tasting wine at caves in Paris.
Shiroube is a haven for travelers who don’t know where they’re going, literally or figuratively.
“‘Shiroube’ is a Japanese word meaning ‘being a guide for others,’” explains Sato. “But the word also means showing [the] right course on one’s life path.” The site would be especially useful for business travelers who find themselves alone in a large, unknown city.
Shiroube’s open beta is available in more than 1,000 locations, including Rome, Bangkok, Moscow, and New York. Big Apple tourists might also consider a Shiroube competitor called iGottaGuide, also in beta. If you prefer quiet contemplation on the road, San Francisco-based iTourU has an iPhone app with digital guides fashioned by other users.
Shiroube is maintained by a full-time staff of four employees: two in Tokyo and two in Europe. And they’re still expanding, with a plan to invite local businesses onto the site to connect with curious tourists. But they may have to resist the allure of partnerships with big chains, which could threaten their most valuable asset: a truly personal, local vibe.
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