And now, the tables have turned

I’m one of the 60 experts from around the world, evaluating the national nominations for the UN World Summit Awards 2019, the international competition which aims to select and promote the world’s best startup companies in digital content and innovative applications.

Indeed, it’s the same award I won twice, in 2012 and 2018. First with Dérive app, then with The Museum of Yesterday.

I’m one of the judges in the ‘Culture & Tourism’ category, possibly the hardest of the categories to create products for that can be commercialised, but, though I’m biased, perhaps also the most exciting one.

This year’s submissions, 48 from as many countries, range from the needs-quite-a-bit-of-work to the rather-superb, and includes a few products that have already garnered some global recognition and success.

What’s very clear from this year’s submissions is the trend that I myself have been working on since before the introduction of Dérive app, is gaining steam, perhaps reaching mainstream.
In the last few years, the concept of ‘traveling like a local’ first gained attention but is now slowly fading, the realisation setting in that ‘traveling like a local’ is just a way of moving the same hordes of tourists to just another destination, antagonising actual locals in the process, often resulting in the degradation and commercialisation of neighbourhoods that once were ‘authentic’, and now see the original inhabitants priced out of the markets they used to frequent or belong to.

Now, the trend, and one that is much more sustainable, is to provide a travel experience that is unique to the individual. Indeed, the exact catchphrase we’ve been using for both Dérive app and Kompl, and which I also pursue with the places I have been and the upcoming where is the next . beer.
Several of this year’s submissions try to make destination travel into a kind of personalised game that is unique to the user. However, those that are more experimental, and more interesting, tend to also be less polished and less scalable. Those that are more impressive and slick also lean more towards a style of more conventional travel guides.

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It’s also obvious that the biggest hurdle is finding the right framework for sustained commercialisation. As users, we’ve become used to receiving travel-related information for free. Lonely Planet, the last of the conventional guide book brands, is now only a tool to market the larger assets of its proprietor, and practically gives away its guidebooks, while Foursquare, Google Places, Triposo, Yelp!, TripAdvisor and many others just rely on advertising and promotional deals with proprietors to make a profit, the exact antithesis of what this new trend likes to facilitate, and what, more and more, travellers realise they prefer.

In case I’m ahead of the curve, here’s my prediction for the next trend in travel and urban discovery. It will be twofold. On one side, users will want to be catered to very specific needs that are quite unique, and require a more intense involvement from the user. (Say, perhaps, visiting audio specialists in a particular city in case you’re an audio file. Or checking out only goat burgers because you love eating goat.)
On the other side, users will use travel apps less and less, finding their own way around their holidays, only referring to the available travel information infrastructure to obtain practical details. (Like, how to get to a particular destination, what the opening times are, etc.)

This dichotomy, however, will make the industry of travel and tourism apps only harder to monetise.

For this year’s WSA, I do have a few favourites, but it’s crowded at the top. This initial qualification will result in a shortlist of a good dozen projects, from which five winners will be selected by the grand jury, in November.

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