Sara Cook - Director of Communications, ToursByLocals
Sara Cook, Director of Communications, ToursByLocals

Sara Cooke – Director of Communications, ToursByLocals

Sara Cook - Director of Communications, ToursByLocals

Sara Cook, Director of Communications, ToursByLocals

There’s a lot to be said about venturing off the beaten path, something ToursByLocals has taken to heart. The travel company has made it their mission to provide authentic local experiences with the help of knowledgeable local guides, invaluable assets who can show off their destination like no one else can, says Sara Cooke, Director of Communications. We ask Sara all about the company’s history, its services and what adventurers can look forward to this year and the next.

1. When did ToursByLocals start, and what niche does the company fulfill in the travel industry?

In November 2008, Dave Vincent and Paul Melhus launched ToursByLocals, a travel company designed to appeal to independent-minded travellers in search of authentic local experiences. We fall into several niches because of the flexible nature of our tours and the diverse array of guides we have on our site. Our 1,700 guides in 132 countries offer cultural, culinary, historical and active tours to small, private groups: couples and families travelling together, girls getaways, friends enjoying a cruise vacation, or luxury travellers in search of an exclusive experience.

2. ToursByLocals means exactly that – you offer tours that are run by local guides. In your opinion, what are some of the advantages of having a local lead the way?

There are many! Spending time with a local guide is a great way to really experience the nuances of a new city. A local guide is tuned into the social and cultural issues at play in their regions. They can offer travellers genuine insight into the places they visit, providing a more meaningful experience than simply seeing the sights. Our local guides love to share their favourite little pleasures: the charming café they frequent, quiet restaurants, local boutiques, music venues, so you can avoid the tourist traps. And of course, on a practical level, a local guide will show you the easiest, quickest way to get around and help orient you to a new place so you feel at home.

3. Are there certain destinations where travellers would specifically benefit from having a local guide? If so, which ones?

We’ve seen travellers use local guides in their own cities! New Yorkers, for instance, can learn so much in their own backyards. That being said, our bestselling tours are in Paris, Rome, St. Petersburg and Kyoto. All of these places boast a wealth of history and culture that a guide can help you access, and a language barrier that a guide can help you overcome. Guides can also help keep you safe in more dangerous cities – for instance, Cairo or Rio de Janeiro – letting you know where you can safely explore outside the tourist zones.

Trevi fountain in Rome, Italy

Trevi fountain, Rome, Italy

4. What specifically do you look for in a local guide?

We look for a combination of professionalism and creativity. An engaging personality and deep love and knowledge of their city or region are required. We need our guides to be entertaining, insightful, genuine, friendly and 100% reliable. They’re expected to be both an expert and a new friend at the same time, so that mix of experience and charm is essential! Every one of our guides goes through a rigorous recruiting and screening process to make sure they’re the right fit for ToursByLocals.

5. What are some of your bestselling tours for 2014? And are you debuting any new ones in 2015?

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Dubrovnik, Croatia/King’s Landing

One of our biggest surprise hits this year is a Dubrovnik ‘Game of Thrones’ tour. Fans of the hit TV show want to see where the series is filmed, and we have a guide in Dubrovnik who offers a combined history/Game of Thrones tour that’s got him booked up until fall. Shore excursions in a variety of ports of call have continued to be big sellers this year along with Jewish tours. The World Cup has drawn many people to Rio this month, and our guides there are busy leading both classic city sightseeing trips and more unconventional tours of Rio’s favelas and samba nightlife.

As for 2015, we are always bringing on new guides and every guide designs their own unique tours, so I can guarantee there will be many new tours but can’t yet say what they will be!