Competitours: Amazing Race Without the Stress
Competitours: Amazing Race Without the Stress
By Stephen Hartshorne
A major element of travel for most people is seeing the sights and learning about other countries.
For those who like to add an element of creativity and resourcefulness -- and a pinch of friendly competition -- entrepreneur Steve Belkin has introduced Competitours, a travel company that turns your vacation into a game that's challenging and fun.
Loosely based on the popular, award-winning reality television show "The Amazing Race," Competitours offers teams of 'contestants' a chance to travel around Europe visiting interesting locations and making creative videos to document their travels.
Competitours has been described as "The Amazing Race without the stress, weird food and stunts" because travelers are given a wide range of challenges to choose from, and the scoring system is designed to keep all the teams in the running throughout the nine-day trip/competition.
Teams are made up of friends, relatives, couples -- any two people who elect to travel together -- and they match wits with 16 other teams to create videos and different locations and earn points that could win them thousands of dollars in prizes. Belkin calls this 'site-doing.'
"I had a blast with my mom," said one competitor, "which isn't always easy."
"I have traveled extensively in the past," said another, "but have never been as 'into' the locations and people. I now find myself wanting to plan only 'site-doing' trips. This fantastic adventure has spoiled me."
In any given European city or town, teams are given a "virtual mission packet" which lists a wide variety of challenges for the day.
They can choose from five different challenge combinations: five challenges in the downtown area, or three in-town challenges and one on the outskirts of town, or one in-town and two on the outskirts; it all depends on how much ground they want to cover.
Then there are excursion challenges which take a bit more time and count for more.
In a sample mission packet on the company website, the options include visits to a Viking ship museum, a chocolate factory, a medieval castle, a miniature city, a West African market and a vineyard. At each of these locations, contestants make a video based on certain guidelines.
They might be asked to write an advertisement for a tour aboard a Viking vessel, describe their favorite exhibits at a museum, or clock their best time on a alpine toboggan ride kind of like a one-person roller coaster that descends 4,000 feet down a mountainside.
To avoid giving an advantage to people with more video experience, no special effects or editing are allowed in the videos. The judges, who are travel professionals, look for videos that are "interesting, creative and bursting with personality."
Numerous sample videos have been posted on the Competitours website. As you can see from the videos, these people are having a blast!
"Our adrenalin levels were so high, we never felt tired," writes Judie from Los Angeles. "Each night, we couldn’t wait to read the handouts and find out what country we would be going to the next day. At breakfast, we would trade funny stories.
"At the bar late in the day, we would howl at each other’s videos. And we were surprised how much fun we had interacting with so many people as we accomplished our challenges."
The competition is important, but not nearly as important as enjoying the people, the destinations and the experience.
"We finished with a win for the trip, which was great," say Kent and Linda from Boston, "but that wasn't the real 'win' in this game. It was the opportunity to participate in something entirely new, meeting people who are rather like-minded and 'touring' places we never would have seen before, all while documenting everything with video and photos. That's where we won."
Some people might not feel comfortable paying for a trip when they don't know where they're going. That's why Competitours does not ask for payment until the trip is over (except for a $100 deposit).
We are confident that we will deliver on a thrilling, culturally immersive experience," Belkin says, "and we want to prove that by removing any upfront risk for the traveler."
Since graduating from the University of Michigan, Belkin has had a highly successful career in the entertainment and travel industry, beginning by supervising tours by stars like Stevie Nicks and Bob Dylan.
He owned and operated a television and radio production company and produced an improvisational comedy game show that highlighted talents like Steve Carrell, Nia Vardalos and Jack McBrayer.
He is also known for his unique hobby: collecting frequent flyer miles. Belkin estimates he has earned (and redeemed) more than 27 million miles worth of Business and First Class international airline tickets, a feat that was written up by CNN, USA Today, Money Magazine and numerous other newspapers and magazines.
Back in 2004, Belkin took part in a 23-day Global Scavenger Hunt that spanned ten countries and four continents, an experience he heartily recommends for people who have the time and the money.
The trip inspired him to design Competitours, a slower-paced, more affordable competition. He has brought both his expertise and his enthusiasm to the project.
"Forget tourists who blindly follow the herd on a cookie-cutter tour!" he writes on his website. "Competitours puts you in the middle of the culture and then gives you a chance to investigate, navigate, research, be perplexed, be thrilled, ham it up, be bold, be curious... This goes way beyond sight-seeing. This is site-doing!"