Tip Tour Your Way Around

Tom Yen, creator of the Tip Tour app

Try Something New

It all started at a wedding. As so often happens, a handful of guests found themselves standing around, facing several hours of time to kill before the next officially scheduled wedding event. What to do? Unknown town and region, a chance-met group of people. Who even knew what the options were? Wouldn’t it be great if there were some easily available, informative guide to local scenic spots, interesting features, unique peculiarities?

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Tom Yen was at that wedding two years ago. “Several of us were walking by these ritzy houses in Rhode Island, on the waterfront,” he recalls. “Someone said, ‘It’s too bad there’s no way to find a local person who knows their way around, someone who could tell us about all these houses.’ If you Google ‘Rhode Island waterfront rowhouses’ you get lots of responses, but they’re not helpful. (We’ve certainly all had that experience!) They’re mostly about real estate for sale.”

Growth of a Good Idea

Tom headed home to San Diego and his consulting work, not realizing a seed had been planted with his good friend, Dave, another guest at the wedding. Six months later Tom and his wife, Renata, moved east so she could pursue a degree in public health from The Dartmouth Institute. They settled in Lebanon for its easy access to Renata’s classes. Tom and Dave made contact, and they began working on the app they wish they’d had at that wedding. They christened it Tip Tour. The idea for the name, says Tom, “came out of the fact that we decided to include in-app tipping (a gratuity) and ‘tip’ is fun because it also means suggestions. So Tip Tour is a reference to giving a tip for a tour and going on a tour comprised of tips from local experts.” The app aims to provide interesting information about sites near where you are (or where you tell it you’re going). It’s “a mobile platform that focuses on telling the stories behind nearby places and things, and providing a way to explore a narrative behind a place via self-guided tours,” says Tom, in his easy-going way. It’s intended for use on a phone; the app doesn’t work on your office computer. (Not that you’d be browsing travel ideas at the office – but, just in case, a web-friendly version is in the works.)

Tom and Renata enjoy outdoor recreation when they have a spare moment. Furry companion Lily joins in as much as possible. They like year-round hiking in the area, and to get out on the Connecticut River on paddleboards or kayaks. They seek white-water kayaking in the Mascoma River when the water is high, and mountain biking is also an interest. Among its outdoor options in the Upper Valley, Tip Tour includes mountain biking tours on trails at Boston Lot Lake.

A map showing numerous places about which Tip Tour stories are available

Interface for an Encyclopedia

Building sufficient content for the app is, of course, a challenge. Tip Tour uses information created by others (with permission, of course). For example, when they’re open the Norwich Historical Society can provide flyers for self-guided walking tours along Main Street. Tip Tour has made the content from the flyers available to the ever-growing number of people who reach for their phone when they need any sort of information. Sarah Rooker, director of the Historical Society, was interested when Tom Yen proposed creating a Norwich Tip Tour. “I’d been trying to get more material online and out to the community,” she said, adding, “It’s easy and cheap to add content online, say more pictures.” Lots of people are used to a printed walking-tour brochure, but online information is available to a much wider audience.

Popular tours often involve breweries, wineries, and specialty markets. The company gives window stickers to business sites on Tip Tour, with the hope of raising awareness of the app. Ideally, passersby will download the app to satisfy the curiosity of the moment, and then use and reuse it.

Tip Tour calls its information providers ‘curators,’ adding gravitas to the process. Tours can cover anything: outdoor sports and exercise, local historical high points (or hidden points), multi-site tours, and single stops. A vineyard ‘tour’ might include many stops along a Napa highway, or rest at a single vineyard but cover many different wines. “Early on we focused on finding existing content,” says Tom, “and we still seek that. But we’re finding people who want to collaborate, they want to create the whole tour. That’s the sweet spot.” You might think it would be like looking for a needle in a haystack to find content-creators, but, says Tom, “Lots of non-profits, like arts organizations, have material they put together in the past, but maintaining and publicizing their site was just overwhelming.”

Video and audio clips, photos, and text are all options for curators to convey their information. “The hope is to have people who are passionate about different things become curators and share that passion and wealth of knowledge with other users,” explains Tom.

Screenshots of local options

Information, Not Publicity

Tip Tour wants to avoid becoming a place where businesses publicize themselves. “We are not a platform for reviews,” says Tom. “We are a platform for sharing stories about places and things. Not all stories are placed on the platform; to become a curator, an individual or organization has to demonstrate that they are going to tell interesting stories.” Users of the system, called ‘explorers,’ can rate the stories; stories that accumulate high ratings thus also acquire credibility. And if explorers are particularly delighted with a story or tour, they can leave a monetary tip for the curator. With a pop-up starting figure of 99¢ for this voluntary payment, it’s clear that no one is going to be getting rich fast by curating.

The fun of passing on your enthusiasms and knowledge remains the biggest part of the reward.o see what’s available locally, download Tip Tour Explorer. If you’d like to create a tour for Tip Tour, contact Stories@TipTour.org.

One of the Norwich tours


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