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Ria’s Idea 2: Tourist Trip Website

Insider New York City Tour

Project  #2: Ria Banerjee

The Elevator Pitch

People are never tired of the city, especially when that city is New York. Every year, tourists flock to midtown and parts of Brooklyn, and visit the same big name shops, restaurants, and sites. While those are not to be missed—who in their right minds would discourage eating at Katz’s Deli?—there are gems in every New York neighbourhood. This website and mobile phone app positions itself in the perceived gap between tourist websites and actual people who want to “know” the city in some ineffable way. It focuses on neighbourhoods not ordinarily covered by the guidebooks, and offers insider perspectives on local sights, delis, cafes, restaurants, and historic districts from the people who know and love these places every day.

The Personas

  • Zeta is a tourist who has come to New York with her partner, Eta. They have one child. This is Zeta’s second or third time in the city; she’s previously visited for work but done a little bit of sightseeing. She knows how to decipher the subway map, and has been to the Ollies at Times Square.
  • Eta has travelled around the world before, but come to this city for the first time. Eta is a little nervous about this trip, but is familiar with and comfortable in large metropolises in general. Eta knows Zeta’s already done the “touristy stuff” before, and would like to explore something a little off the beaten path with partner and child.
  • Theta has lived in New York for almost a decade, and loves the city. Theta finds out about the hippest new bars in town from Time Out, but rarely goes. Instead, Theta prefers to strike out on the train and visit parts of the city that never make it into that magazine. Theta uses Yelp and MenuPages to find local restaurants and bars in far-flung neighbourhoods, but knows not to rely on random people’s ratings too much. Theta is underemployed.
  • Iota has a fanatical love for New York-themed movies, especially Ghostbusters. Iota has grand plans for a “Ghostbusters Tour,” but has no idea how to get that idea off the ground. Iota would like to actually conduct the tour (hire a bus, get a megaphone, sell tickets to tourists, fix a meet-up point, ferry people on board and ply them with witty banter), but knows that is impractical for any number of reasons. Finance is one of the reasons, and also copyright laws. Iota is a writer, and therefore also chronically underemployed.
  • Kappa is a Growth and Structure of Cities major working for some years in New York. Kappa knows a lot about the history of New York neighbourhoods, and loves to collect snippets of information about skyscrapers, churches, train stations, apartment buildings, parks, and so on. Kappa doesn’t know what to do with all this information, and spends a lot of time filling friends’ ears with same. Kappa is satisfied at work, but the job doesn’t fill a vacuum; being involved with a grassroots homespun venture like this project makes Kappa feel useful and knowledgeable.

 

The Use Case Scenario

When Zeta and Eta and child plan their trip to the city, they stumble upon this small non-touristy site to plan their travels on. The site offers them a wide range of functionality—both the nuts and bolts of what to do, where to go, and how to get there, but also some historical information, some local flavour, some high-minded gossip (“Did you know Zora Neale Hurston held her rent parties in that brownstone?”) and a strong, amiable set of local voices. They can choose to take one of Theta’s day trips in and around the city, or Iota’s Ghostbusters Tour. They like that the site looks like it’s a small operation, and they also like that their money is going to real people instead of a faceless corporation. Since they are reserved around strangers, they enjoy the convenience of a site that acts as a virtual tour guide.

All the Bells and Whistles

  • Plan Your Trip. This section of the site is where every user begins. It asks for basic information such as when the trip will occur, duration and number of people. In a sense, this is the gateway to the rest of the site. Once the site gathers all this information, it offers a range of options: the “best fit” activities and the other options (greyed out?), so that people can choose to modify their trip or otherwise go beyond the bounds suggested by the site.
  • Neighbourhood Information. No trips-website is complete without this section. On this site, each neighbourhood covered will link to the relevant TripAdvisor and Yelp and other such sites—because users coming to a new city might have doubts about the reliability of the site’s opinions. However, in addition to this, the neighbourhoods will be reviewed by the site staff in their own voices too; this insider information and set of personable voices is what will set the site apart from big names like TONY or even the NYTimes Travel section. For instance, a tour might suggest taking a trip up to Arthur Avenue, and also a particular restaurant up there—it will link to a TripAdvisor page talking about the Bronx and Arthur Ave., a Times restaurant review, but the biggest amount of space will be devoted to the site’s own suggestion of how to go, what to order and what to see/do around there.
  • Suggested Tours and Trips Section. This section is an archive of tours suggested by the core staff (Theta, Iota, Kappa) of varying lengths and costs. Visitors can browse the trips, but only in limited previews; the full version requires log in and a small fee. The trips are all tagged to indicate what they might be ideal for (similar to the system Groupon or Yelp uses): “good for kids,” “good for couples,” “good on a budget,” and so on. The feature that sets this site apart from other similar ones is that each trip is narrated by the voice of the person who suggests it – for instance, the “Ghostbusters tour” would be narrated by Iota in the preview. The full version would also have Iota narrating the journey in real time, similar to how a museum walking tour has a narrator (the difference being that whereas the latter tries to present a depersonalised voice, this tour would specifically offer a dose of Iota’s and other narrators’ personalities). The fee charged would be minimal—less than $5 per tour, and paid through Google Wallet or PayPal.
  • Build-a-Trip. This section is log in only, and allows further customisation of the selected tour that the user has chosen. So, for instance, if the user picks the Ghostbusters tour, this section is where the tour gets integrated into his or her day. The site provides a detailed hi-resolution .pdf map for those who prefer printed out material; those who prefer can simply access all the information on a GPS location-generated map. This section will tie in with Google Maps to ask for a mapped route, and then add the informational component. Users can also add their own notes (tips from elsewhere, things they don’t want to forget to see, etc.). Once the trip is built, it is saved under the user ID and links to the mobile app, thus allowing the user to access all this information on a mobile device.
  • The App. This will be able to link in real time to Google Maps using GPS so that the user can see their progress along a predetermined route (or how far they are straying from the suggested route). It will also link to the NYPL’s Historical Maps site, to generate historical information about relevant sites. It can also link to audio and video via YouTube – for instance, movie clips of famous street corners, or a clip of “Empire State of Mind” when the user walks past Yankee Stadium. The app remains helpful by offering so much myriad information, but also discreet—the user can choose to open all the links, or none at all—but the focus must remain on the experience of exploring the city, not the world of hypertext.

Time-line

Set-up, coordination, and recording of tours: 1 year

Researching and building the app: 6 months (or no time at all, if I do my previous proposal first!)

Set up website, build pages, ensure online privacy and security: 8 months

Bare-bones Version

The simplest version would use text where the full version wants to use a combination of text, audio, and video. It would be set up as a simple blog, and would have few or none of the customisable options. It would still offer a hi-res pdf map which would contain text blurbs giving some of the information that the mobile app provides in the full version.

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