Virtual tours now real-time with Georama's unique live toursNews / Technology | OnlineBy Nick Vivion | August 25, 2014Share This article was originally published on Travel startup Georama has created a new product, a live video setup contained within a backpack that allows tour guides to offer live tours of destinations worldwide to an online audience. The startup has gone through a couple of pivots, starting as a trip planning service and moving into a SaaS vacation rental recommendation engine. This latest iteration allows tourism organizations, educational institutions and travel brands to offer interactive tours of destinations and travel products. This is a new way to market a place - basically, it's live marketing for travel. The technology is a live-streaming backpack attached to a small GoPro camera up-front. The tour guide simply walks the city, sharing the sights and sounds with the live audience. While this technology is not exactly new - Justin.tv was a pioneer of live-streaming years ago - the application in travel is certainly unique. The ability for tour guides to share their knowledge live around the world has not been easily available previously without a home-grown technophile setup. Of course, there are financial reasons why a tour guide wouldn't want to give up the secret sauce for free to a live audience. This is a knowledge-based occupation, and some tour guides will not take kindly to others giving it away for free. However, this is not quite a straight "live tour" approach. Georama has created an interactive interface that provides new touchpoints for destination marketers and brands seeking to engage potential visitors with the destination. Live comments can be pulled in from Facebook and Twitter, creating a whole new form of live entertainment in travel marketing. Just as brochures and videos have been used for years to instill a sense of wanderlust in potential visitors, a live engagement with a destination will likely encourage a deeper connection with the place - and most people will not be satisfied simply by experiencing it virtually. Nothing (yet) is a replacement for the real thing. The business model behind this patent-pending technology is simply called Virtual Experiences, and the company is marketing it as a means of deeper engagement for marketers at DMOs, hotels and educational institutions. These organizations can leverage Georama's network of guides to create an experience that really showcases a destination or product. Potential use cases could be a city preview for a large event RFP, a live tour of a hotel in advance of an event by a planner, or even a "welcome to your new home" event for students embarking on a study abroad adventure (and their nervous parents). The technology is a clever means of familiarizing a viewer with a place, and is compelling as long as the product is focused on increasing excitement for the destination at hand - rather than replacing an actual visit. The live feature of the experience can also offer a new means of learning about a destination for potential travelers - and even younger students who aren't able to travel but want to be exposed to the world afar. See a video of a sample tour here. Tnooz had some questions for Nihal Advani, the co-founder of Georama, about his startup's latest product, and its implications for the emerging company's business model. Describe the thinking behind this product, and how it came to be. I’ve been playing with the concept of virtual travel in my mind since the early days of Georama. However, at the time my ideas weren’t all that different from Google Earth or Google Street View so I didn’t pursue it. About a year ago, I realized that virtual travel would be so much better if it was live (instead of a snapshot in time), and not just through a static webcam but via an actual person with a wearable camera who can be mobile and can interact with viewers to personalize the experience. So we decided to build out the technology to enable this and have worked tirelessly since then to make it a reality. What does this mean for the future of travel? Is there a risk that people will feel less pull to travel when virtual options exist? I believe that our Virtual Experiences technology can be useful in two key ways: It can be leveraged as a preview for an actual trip – whether it be for travel inspiration or travel planning purposes.For those who are physically disabled or financially/logistically unable to make an actual trip at the time, it can be a great alternative. Our technology can never replace physically being at a destination and experiencing the sights, sounds, and smell first hand, but our Virtual Experiences technology provides a way to travel vicariously in real-time, which is surely better than viewing pictures or videos that are static snapshots in time and aren’t necessarily personalized. What's the business model behind this? How will you make money? Currently we do this as a B2B service and typically work with tourism organizations, hotels/venues, and educational institutions. Our pricing has two components – a one-time set up fee, and a monthly recurring fee based on the number of hours of broadcasting required per month. Do you have any initial launch partners? If so, what was the pitch to them? If not, how are you positioning this product? We have worked with multiple street festivals in Chicago such as Randolph Street Market, 57th Street Art Fair, and the Chicago Pride Parade. For these street festivals it was a way to expand their audience to include viewers from all over the world, and provide them a highly engaging and personalized experience of the event. We are soon launching with a couple hotels and venues in the Midwest – and they will be using our technology to facilitate personalized virtual site visits for prospective clients who want a preview before making a physical trip, or to accommodate those stakeholders who could not accompany their colleagues for a physical site visit. At ESTO, we will be officially announcing this technology for tourism organizations who can leverage our service as a new medium to inspire and excite prospective travelers to take a trip to their destinations. Is this a pivot for your business, or more of a product add-on? Georama launched in 2012 as a B2C travel planning site where travelers could find where to go on vacation based on their interests & preferences, and plan, book, and share their trips. Mid-last year we pivoted to become a B2B business and converted our recommendation engine technology to a Vacation Recommendations SaaS that enables airlines and hotel chains better serve users who are not sure where to go or where to stay. This year we are launching our new Virtual Experiences service which also involves travel discovery and personalization but introduces a brand new medium that we believe has a ton of potential – so it will be a big focus moving forward. Anything else interesting happen during the development of this product? We knew our technology would serve as a great travel inspiration tool and a powerful sales/marketing tool, but over time we realized that it can have so many more applications. What stood out most was the social impact this could make. Imagine if you could take kids in a children hospital (who are physically unable to leave the hospital at that time) on a virtual field trip. Similarly, imagine people in old age homes being able to cross something off their bucket list or being able to revisit a special place that is dear to them. Or physically disabled people who could visit a place they normally couldn’t. Or financially disadvantaged children & adults who can experience parts of the world they have only dreamed of. We are extremely passionate about pursing these applications and truly believe that our technology can make an impact. Read more from Georama on Virtual Experiences here.