The Socialistic Interview: Vayable CEO Jamie Wong on Tourist Malaise and the Future of the Travel Guide


The idea of travel of course has an enduring romance. We leave on trips with the idea in the backs of our minds that perhaps, if we’re lucky, we will show up in Paris or San Francisco or Buenos Aires and immediately be engulfed in a grand adventure, guided by knowledgeable locals to secret parties and unique experiences. But those kinds of touism serendipities can often be elusive — as any sad-eyed family from Nebraska wandering listlessly around New York’s Times Square can tell you.

Vayable, a company that launched earlier this year, aims to help you avoid tourist malaise by setting you up with quirky, vetted local guides for unique takes on the tourist experience. Socialistic recently caught up with the company’s CEO, Jamie Wong, to learn more about how the company finds and vets prospective local guides.

Q: Explain a little about where the idea for Vayable came from.

A: I have spent the past 15 years traveling to more than 30 countries as a student and journalist and was always looking great things to do at my destinations that were both unique and affordable. It’s always been a passion of mine to access the heart of the new places and people I visit, and I found that this represented a gaping hole in the travel space. I would spend months planning a single trip–emailing friends for recommendations and personal contacts, reading guidebooks, and researching online. All I wanted was a way to directly access the people themselves who were passionate and knowledgeable about their hometown and would be able to act as a liaison for me. Since nothing like this existed, I starting building these relationships and acted as travel agent of sort for my friends and family. When they would come visit me in New York or San Francisco, I would act as a tour guide. When they wanted to go to Cambodia, where I spent some time, I would refer them to the people I knew there. After planning dozens of trips and honeymoons for others, I wanted to find a way to scale this vision into something accessible and open to more people. That’s how Vayable was born.

Q: With so much information available online about places (and so many ways to connect with them), why do you think people still go on tours? Why is it important for people to connect with locals when they are traveling.

A: There has been tremendous innovation in the past decade in how we book flights, accommodations and access information through our social networks. But there has not been any way for explorers to directly access people providing local experiences. Recommendation sites and online guides provide excellent crowdsourced information, but they do not provide a way to directly access the people and experiences themselves. Right now the only options for direct booking of things to do are double-decker bus tour-type of experiences. But what about the concert pianist in New York who wants to offer explorers an affordable and more special alternative to Carnegie Hall? Or the Banksy aficionado in San Francisco who wants to share his passion for street art with visitors? Until us, there had been no way for these providers and explorers to access one another. People want to access the heart of a culture. They want to feel like insiders. They want to feel like they want to create memories and feel a part of the places they visit. We are enabling a marketplace that empowers people to finally access the experiences they want.

Q: How do you find people to provide “experiences,” and what is the revenue split with them?

A: We are very engaged with our communities and listen and watch for the people who are movers, shakers and passionate in what they do. Anyone can offer an experience on Vayable, not just professionals. We take a 15% commission from each booking.

Q: What are some of the more unusual experiences that people have offered so far? Obviously there are people giving lessons and tours everywhere in the world — do you have any specific criteria about what does and doesn’t fit into your scope? How do you ensure that all of the local people you work with adhere to a general set of quality standards?

A: We are an open platform and largely let our community dictate what they want to experience and what they want to offer. So far there’s been significant demand for tours that experiences around food, culture and the arts. These creative communities are historically on the margin of mainstream markets, and the exciting thing about our platform is that it places them in the center, because it turns out, these are the kind of experiences people want. Quality is extremely important to us. We work closely with our guides to help them craft excellent experiences and convey them through good storytelling.

Q: Have you changed your strategy or vetting process at all in light of the AirBnB crisis in July?

A: Safety and trust has always been at the forefront for us. We carefully vet every single provider on our site and provide tools for both guides and explorers to ensure safety, accountability and peace of mind.…

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