TRAVEL streaming platform Heygo is to continue offering live guided online tours even after pandemic restrictions have been lifted and holidays return to normal.
Founders John Tertan and Liam Garrison have confirmed that the fast-growing streamer will carry on taking thousands of armchair guests virtually around the world.
And the platform will remain free to join and to use, although users will still be encouraged to leave tips for the guides, typically starting from around £5 in the UK.
It had been feared that the gradual opening up of travel, and the consequent real world increase in paid work for guides, would diminish the demand for virtual tours.
But Heygo appears to be booming and, although some popular guides are offering fewer tours, the platform now offers over 450 different destinations, and continues to add more.
Heygo founders John Tertan and Liam Garrison
“We probably would not have thought of it had it not been for Covid,” admitted John Tertan during a wide-ranging Q&A update beamed from London’s Burgess Park on Monday.
“But it is something that should exist and I think will exist after Covid because it is such a cool way to meet people and see places. I love how it has become a window on the world.”
He confirmed, too, that there are not currently any plans to introduce admission fees, or to introduce advertising to the streamed tours, each of which is led in real time by an experienced local guide.
“We really want Heygo to be a space where everyone can have these amazing experiences irrespective of their socio-economic background,” said Tertan. “It’s really important to us and that’s why we started with the ‘free to join’ model.
“I think it is still the best balance between being able to make it accessible to everyone while still helping guides also find a source of revenue.”
The terracotta warriors at Xi’an in China
The platform was founded in March 2020, just as the first lockdown gripped the globe, and has not only enabled people to see the world but has also been a lifeline for many guides whose income dried up almost overnight.
Guests can enjoy HD streaming – subject to signal strength – take and download ‘postcard’ screenshots, chat live with guides and other travellers, and follow progress on a map.
Capacity for trips typically ranges from around 200 to 300 but particularly popular tours, such as visits to the Icelandic volcano eruptions, have been opened up to as many as 1,000.
Tips are split, with 60% going to the guide and 40% to Heygo. After expenses such as the provision of equipment, streaming and support for the guides, the founders say Heygo’s share ends up between 15% and 20%, which is then re-invested in the business.
The Spilled Blood Cathedral in St Petersburg
Tertan and Garrison, who met at university in London and still profess to be in their twenties, also used the Q&A session to unveil a range of new initiatives on the platform.
- A new look and improved user interface will be introduced in the coming months, taking into account feedback from users. It will not, however, include a zoom focus feature due to digital limitations.
- Monitoring of live chat during trips will be increased after recent, but thankfully rare, incidents during which guides have been trolled. Meanwhile, ‘light touch’ moderation of the Heygo Voyagers Facebook group, which has more than 6,000 members, will continue, and will constantly be reviewed.
- A team supporting the guides will be beefed up, and a new virtual conference – GuideCon – will be arranged so that guides can discuss common concerns and share best practices.
- The technical team is working on an easier way to share postcards taken by users on social media, and looking into the possibility of bulk downloading of images.
- Emails will automatically be sent to people who book trips but then fail to turn up, reminding them that they have missed the tour and inviting them to rebook on another date.
- New guides will be recruited so that new destinations continue to be added. Trips around the lost city of Petra and Cambodia’s ancient Angkor Wat are just the latest to be announced.
“We are so excited about the future of the platform,” said Tertan. “You can meet some incredible guides and other travellers as you see the world.
Buddhist temple next to the Leshan Giant Buddha in China
“It is so important to meet people from other places and get to understand other cultures and other ways of life.”
As for the future, the sky’s the limit – although perhaps not.
“Does anyone know anyone who might be able to arrange for us to have a Heygo trip round the International Space Station?” asked Tertan.
He may not have been joking …