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“People want a say in how their city is appreciated”: Cool Cousin and the Future of Travel

TripAdvisor used to brand itself as the “World’s most trusted travel site”. Yep, that actually happened. To put this claim in proportion, that’s a bit like Cambridge Analytica describing itself as the “World’s most trusted consulting firm”. Or me describing myself as the “World’s most trusted semi-detached house”. It’s just not true.TripAdvisor has consistently been at the centre of scandal: from the Cornish hotel that bribed guests to write good reviews, to the non-existent restaurant—‘The Shed at Dulwich’—that, thanks to a Vice journalist, ended up at the top of TripAdvisor’s rankings for restaurants in London. Eventually, TripAdvisor executives stopped finding their trademark delightfully ironic so in 2013, after a string of lawsuits, they changed their tagline to a more modest boast—the “World’s largest travel site”.

Fundamentally, the problem with TripAdvisor is that it gives too much power to the anonymous traveller. Anyone can post reviews (or be paid to post reviews) and, in that process, harm an entire city’s tourist industry. At Box News, we look into problems like this one—problems of corruption, misinformation and mismanagement. And then we keep an eye out for the people who want to bring about change. So, we spoke to Cool Cousin, a new traveltech venture, who offer something new. On their app, users can connect with locals (“Cousins”) who show off their favourite places to eat, drink, dance, and whatever-verb-is-used-for-walking-slowly-through-a-gallery. All of these Cousins have a profile that tells the user how old they are, what they do, and then shows their map—their unique guide to their city. If you have questions, you can simply message the Cousin and they’ll get back to you within 24 hours.

Callum Hale-Thomson, Cool Cousins’s Head of Business Development explained to me why their app keeps travellers happy. “We live in a world of information overload. We’re constantly being bombarded by websites like TripAdvisor, Yelp,” Callum said. “All we want is to be guided, and to be given something that’s super relevant to us and has not been driven by corporate interests.” In other words, we want the advice of someone who can unlock a city for us. We want a local’s perspective: “You want to be guided by your Cousin because you trust them, on an emotional and personal level, and you’d like to think they’re not going to rip you off.” “It’s why all of our descriptions aren’t just recommendations of a place, it explains why the local goes there, and what they do there.”

But Cool Cousin isn’t just for the benefit of travellers. They also want to help out locals. “We’re seeing huge amounts of over-tourism in cities. Look at Barcelona: there are marches saying, “Refugees welcome. Tourists go home.” La Rambla – it’s full of tourist traps. Whereas, we might tell you that 15 minutes away, there’s a fantastic tapas bar and that’s been run by the same family for 100 years. You can go there, it’ll be cheaper, and you’ll be supporting the local economy. And our cousins will tell you how to behave there, what to order, and how to be respectful.”

  And locals have responded enthusiastically. “Locals are so willing to be those cultural ambassadors, not for any financial gain. I was shocked when I discovered that our cousins love to reply to messages. People want a say in how their city is appreciated. What we’re trying to do is give those locals a voice and let them say, “Look, this is my city and how I live my life and this is how you can be part of that life.””

Author: Alex Hill