I love the aspect of the sharing economy that allows me to meet locals while traveling. And I enjoy seeing things from the perspective of these locals. So peer to peer travel experiences are an attractive concept. I’m far more likely to pay for a unique walk around town with a local than I am to join a tour that takes me to all the standard tourist sites.
I recently reviewed my peer to peer travel experience in Sevilla, which involved an explanation of flamenco dance by a local dancer followed by a flamenco show. My experience researching this tour and other similar ones led me to a few thoughts on peer to peer tour vetting.
Trip4Real is a company that prides itself on vetting all of the experiences advertised, as they explained to me in an interview a month ago. I know Vayable also reviews all of their guides before allowing them to list tours on their site, and I suspect other websites do the same. (For a list of all the sites I’ve found and my overview of peer to peer travel experiences visit my activities page.)
This flamenco tour was one of the few activities in Sevilla that had a review on the Trip4Real website. Trip4Real is a young company and while many cities like Sevilla have a good number of listings, they don’t have many reviews yet. I like peer reviews if they are on a site where you book activities, because this should ensure they are from real people who actually did the activities they are reviewing.
All that is to say there was some professional and individual vetting of this travel experience before I booked it. But in the end it was not exactly what I expected, and I think that is indicative of a bigger problem with these sharing economy travel experience websites.
I’ve noticed on Trip4Real, and even more on Vayable (the biggest player in this space right now), that there are a lot of experiences listed by companies that offer tours professionally. In some ways this is a good thing as it gives small businesses a way to reach travelers, and allows tourists to find all their options in one place. But I think there is a difference between going for a bike ride with a local who just does this on the side because she loves her city and has some unique things to show me, and going on a bike tour with a full time professional guide and 20 other people. There’s no easy way to distinguish between these two on peer to peer tour guide sites. I look closely at the profile of the person offering the experience, and sometimes there are clues (like a photo of 20 people riding bikes with the logo that’s also on the guide’s t-shirt, or the “guide” offering trips in 5 different cities), but it’s hard to be sure.
In the case of my flamenco experience the listing was from Maria, someone who has no information in her profile about being anything other than a professional flamenco dancer who guides these tours on the side. But our guide was someone else entirely. And when I got the confirmation I saw that Maria has a website through which she runs these tours (and they are cheaper if you book directly with her.) On her website she promises: “We take you to the places you would not easily find yourself – away from the mass-tourism tablaos.” I don’t think this was true for our tour, but that didn’t make the performance bad. I just didn’t see a local in the crowd.
I’d never hold a large group tour to these standards: expecting to have a guide who was named on the site, expecting to be taken off the tourist path. So perhaps it’s unfair to criticize peer to peer tours for these things. But that’s what I want from my travel experiences, and I almost never pay for large group tours because of this. If these peer to peer activity sites want me to use them more often they might consider adding an indicator that distinguishes between tour guides doing this as part of a larger tour company, enterprises of just a few people, and tours offered by individuals.