Your Local Cousin is a new website devoted to connecting travelers with locals for insider tips about their destinations. I was in the process of setting up an interview with Aarti Kanodia, one of the founders, when I decided to test out the site for help planning a trip to Tucson. Knowing they just launched in 2015 I figured it would be a challenge for Your Local Cousin to come up with a local who could provide me with Tucson advice and I was prepared to get an apologetic note telling me they couldn’t help. To my surprise, they quickly connected me with a Tucson native (who also has an impressive academic and professional resume).
First I emailed my new cousin a list of questions I wanted answered. This included help finding a classy but not too expensive place to host a family lunch, suggested Tucson activities, and tips about hiking in the summer. We set up a time to chat on the phone and my new Tucson cousin came prepared with a list of restaurant recommendations. After talking more about his list it turned out none were quite what I was looking for (though all sounded like good places to try for other meals). But as a long time Tucson resident he was able to offer some additional suggestions after getting more details on my requirements. He strongly recommended we check out the Kitt Peak National Observatory (which you can sign up for in advance online), something I would not have come up with myself. And on the topic of hiking he warned that in the summer I should plan my hikes to end by 10am when it gets really really hot.
Overall my experience was very good, and I’d definitely use Your Local Cousin again. For the price ($15 for a 30 min call) there’s a lot of potential for valuable advice and support. I really like the idea of getting insider information about specific things that interest me in lieu of the general guidebook suggestions that every other tourist is also reading. In cases like my Tucson trip, where I was helping to plan some pre-wedding activities, local input was especially helpful. Your Local Cousin is currently offering a free trial, so everyone should definitely try out this new service!
Interview with Aarti Kanodia, Your Local Cousin Co-Founder
ShareTraveler: How did you come up with the idea for Your Local Cousin?
Aarti Kanodia: My cousins, Kunal, Riddhi and I came up with the idea for Your Local Cousin by accident. This past January, I was visiting Kolkata, India and for the first time I experienced the city like a local. I ventured into the wholesale flower market at 6 am, shopped at the most posh boutique stores tucked away in a warehouse and sipped dhaba chai behind the Stock Exchange with the “Rich kids of Kolkata” (without falling sick!), thanks to Riddhi, a Kolkata local. The two immediately knew they wanted to connect travelers with expert locals so they can have similar experiences – like AirBnb but for travel advice. Kunal is their most well traveled cousin and is deeply passionate about exploring the world (he has visited over 30 countries and lived in Dubai, Germany, Singapore and the US) so it was easy to get him excited about the Your Local Cousin concept.
ST: The model of using skype calls and/or gchat to connect people is interesting. Why did you decide on this approach instead of emails?
Aarti: Your Local Cousin first came up with the idea of connecting travelers with locals via Skype, FaceTme and Google Chat because we thought the face-to-face and voice interaction is much more personal and does a better job connecting people. However, we added an e-mail option and realized it works well for people with hectic work-lives and those in time zones where it is hard to schedule a call. We actually discovered that the e-mail option is very valuable because locals create detailed itineraries, which travelers can take with them. The quality of the e-mails has been outstanding – one local created a 30-page PowerPoint presentation for a traveler to Athens with pictures and another sent a five-page itinerary to Puerto Rico (and followed up with “I don’t want to sound like a mom but bring sunblock!”). Several travelers have also met our locals for drinks (although we don’t encourage meeting in person)! Last month we created a customized map option where locals create mobile-friendly maps via Google My Maps and we see it as a very valuable add-on going forward.
ST: I see you have over 300 locals offering advice to travelers, how did you recruit these locals?
Aarti: We currently have a little over 300 locals in over 70 countries. Myself, Riddhi and Kunal vet each and every local via Skype or FaceTime to ensure they are passionate about their city, have excellent communication skills and are motivated by helping travelers first and earning money second. Locals find us via social media (mostly FaceBook), alumni networks (NYU, UCLA, U. Maryland, Concordia etc.), job boards and e-mail marketing efforts.
ST: Do you have specific countries targeted for expansion in the near future?
Aarti: When we started Your Local Cousin we had no idea what people wanted. At first we thought that we would be the locals for the places that we knew the best – Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Dubai, Singapore, Delhi etc. On our first day in business we had paying customers request places like Yangon, Rotterdam, and Istanbul. As of now the most popular cities requested by travelers are Rome, Paris, Istanbul, Beijing, Prague and New York. Hence, we will certainly focus on these cities going forward.
ST: Where do you hope to see Your Local Cousin in five years?
Aarti: Your Local Cousin hopes to be the AirBnb for travel advice. If you wake up one day and think to yourself, “I want to earn some money today” you have several options. If you have a car you can drive for Uber. If you know how to put together IKEA furniture you can become a “Rabbit” on TaskRabbit. If you are a designer you can design logos on Fiverr. In the same way we hope that Your Local Cousin becomes an easy way for anyone to earn money and we hope to give our ‘Local Cousins’ a viable source of income giving travel advice – something ANYONE can do!