Who Knows the Most about a Place? The locals, of course!
By Mary Govoni
When you ask most people what to do in New York City, the responses are almost formulaic: “You can’t miss Times Square”, “Talk a walk around Central Park”, “Take the trip over to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island”, “Don’t forget Grand Central Station!”
But what do you after you’ve been to all of New York’s City’s landmarks?
You’ve taken in the hustle and bustle of the busy streets, and you’ve admired the bird’s eye view from the top of the Empire State building, so what next?
In order to truly get to know New York City and what it has to offer – you have to ask the people that have been discovering its cafes, its side streets, and its quirks for all their lives.
And that’s exactly what Nancy Blaine intended to do when she created Local Expeditions, an off-the-beaten-path tour company, designed for everyone – exclusively by locals.
Speaking With the Founder
When I got the chance to talk to Nancy, the company’s founder, she was enthusiastic to tell me everything I needed to know about the way Local Expeditions works, where they came from, who it’s for, and much more.
She started by explaining the sharing economy model for the company as one similar to that of Airbnb, where the locals themselves are entirely in charge of what they want to offer to their customers.
As a lodging service, Airbnb has been changing the travel industry since its launch in 2008.
As residences have begun to open their homes to travelers, the company has brought with it a feeling of genuineness and intimacy to travel.
Nancy decided this type of authenticity was what travel was truly about, and set out to develop this type of experience for travelers, not necessarily through where they’re saying, but from what they’re seeing.
On September 19th, 2015 she launched Local Expeditions, in an attempt to offer travelers the unique opportunity to experience the different New York City neighborhoods through the eyes of a local.
Some Available Tours
The company now boasts 29 different tours, all of which are run by individuals that know their area of New York City in expertise.
The design of the tour is entirely in the hands of the local tour guide. The tour guide gets to decide how their travelers get to see, experience, and remember New York City.
In the travel industry, a highly saturated and competitive market, Local Expeditions offers the most authentic, hands-on walking tours to see the city’s best-kept secrets.
Of the company’s 29 currently tours, Local Expeditions offers the chances to see Park Slope, Gowanus, Dumbo, Chinatown Manhattan, Grand Central Station, Victorian Flatbush, and numerous other up-close looks at New York City’s neighborhoods.
One of Local Expedition’s most popular tours, “Go To Hell” as it’s referred to, is run by Ziggy a local foodie, and well-known TripAdvisor critic.
He takes his guests to Hell’s Kitchen, one of New York’s most infamous neighborhoods, and allows them to learn all about its complicated and violent history, where Irish gangs once ruled the streets.
The tour explores Hell’s Kitchen’s many secrets including gardens, churches, and many great eateries outside the tourist path.
Nancy herself leads the My City Bike Tour, which takes tours on a safe and informative bike stretching from the Manhattan Bridge to the Brooklyn Bridge.
The My City Bike Tour allows its group members to learn the ins and the outs of the New York city bike system, which can be difficult to understand without the help of someone who’s figured it all out before. It also opens a new avenue of transport to New Yorkers and visitors alike.
Local Expeditions as a Company
Nancy stressed Local Expeditions as an alternative, sustainable type of travel. The company’s walking tours never exceed more than 10 members at a time.
This not only keeps the experience intimate but also remains unobtrusive to the neighborhood communities themselves.
Nancy knows that as a New York local, “you don’t want a group of 40 people looking up at a building obstructing your morning commute to work”.
The basic demographic of these tours is a pretty even mix between New Yorkers and visitors alike.
The tours do offer the perfect opportunity for individuals that have recently moved to the area to get to know their neighborhood more intimately.
The demographic most consistently attracts the 35-60 year age group – a group of individuals that are healthy, active, willing to walk, and eager to explore.
The descriptions available on the Local Expeditions websites distinguish whether or not certain tours are family or dog-friendly.
The company also hopes to begin offering tours in languages other than English for foreign travelers craving the most authentic experience possible.
Nancy explained that in the coming year, the company aims to focus their market to the active traveler – those that have experienced the awe of New York City’s major attractions are craving more.
It’s for those that “wants to explore the burrows, are interested in walking and want to learn a little bit of history, and a lot of culture.”
“I take these people like I would take my friends. If you’re coming to New York, this is what you should be doing”, Nancy said as she described the type of travel Local Expeditions offers. She discredits the concierge system for its lack of authenticity.
When it comes to Local Expeditions, companies cannot bribe the tour guides to take their tours to certain businesses. The tour guides are the ones that decide which businesses are worth experiencing.
Nancy brings people to “the place where I can show them the best chocolate cake, but I’m not being paid to bring people there”.
What’s to Come?
Because of this authenticity, the tours are always developing, and the company is always offering something new.
In 2017, the company plans to move away from the $40 fixed rate model for each tour and offer more flexible pricing, as well as add some additional weekend getaway trips to their itineraries (a weekend trip to the Foothills of the White Mountains is soon to come!)
Local Expeditions hopes to expand its tour offerings to a variety of other cities in the coming years, as well. Since the website itself and its social media platforms have no geographical boundaries, the vision is to allow lots of people to sign up in lots of places.
They aim to inspire other locals to recognize their love for their own cities and want to share their homes with travelers.
A Win-Win-Win Situation
Local Expeditions is founded on a win-win-win ideology, where the traveler, the tour guide, and the company all benefit from these experiences.
When a new tour is developed, Local Expeditions wins because the company grows in its size and its offerings.
The traveler wins because they have a personalized experience to see New York City in the most authentic, personalized, and well-organized way. And the tour guides themselves win because they receive 80% of the tour’s profit.
Local Expeditions also boasts another unique quality that marks them as a company committed to the social communities they are involved in.
5% of the tour’s revenue is devoted to a non-profit organization of the tour guide’s choice.
In the ever-changing travel industry, Local Expeditions is a company that is beginning to offer a new and unique way to see one of America’s most well-renowned cities.
New York City has much more to offer than the hustle and bustle of Times Square, it’s just a matter of being introduced to it.
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Mary Govoni is a freelance writer from Cape Cod, Mass. She loves traveling to find food, good conversation and good company.