Truly experiencing a new city can only be done with someone who lives there. Someone who knows the real deal, what to see, where to eat, and things to do. If you’ve ever found yourself wanting an original adventure, or if you love showing visitors around your city, there’s Lokafy. Lokafy connects travellers with passionate locals in Toronto, Paris and New York.
We chatted with the founder of Lokafy, Kiran Samra, to find out more.
SDTC: What led you to create this site?
KS: While on a break from my soul-sucking corporate job, I had a chance to think about new ideas and reflect on my travel experiences. I thought about how different my travel experiences were when I went to meet a friend in a city or met a local there to when I just visited the standard tourist “must-sees” on my own. I realized that the places where I met someone were so much more meaningful to me; those places were so much more memorable because of the people I met in the city.
I have always had the urge to talk with people while travelling but I’m not the most outgoing person, and as a traveller it’s especially difficult to do when you don’t speak the language. When I did a solo backpacking trip through Eastern Europe ten years ago, I went on the Hungary chat rooms in advance to find someone in Budapest who spoke English and didn’t seem creepy. Fortunately, Sabi was online and he agreed to meet me for a coffee and show me around the city. Sabi and I walked around the city for hours and I learned about the history and culture of Hungary and what young people were concerned about, and I also got to know Sabi.
The experience made me understand the country better and perhaps more importantly, getting to know Sabi on a personal level I was able to see things from a Hungarian perspective. With the migrant crisis, Hungary has been in the news and I think back to my brief visit and the conversations I had with Sabi; I can understand Hungarian’s reactions a bit better. In that same trip I went to Prague and didn’t manage to meet anyone there. I visited the key attractions of the city, but now, ten years later, I don’t even think about Prague; I just passed through the city.
By reflecting on my travel experiences, I realized that meeting people is so important to travel that there should be an convenient, secure way of finding locals who are friendly and welcoming and who have shared interests. I really felt this was something that was missing in the world and that I was the right person to create it.
What’s been the biggest challenge with implementing this service?
The biggest challenge is making travellers aware of Lokafy. Since most people only travel once a year and right now, we’re only available in Paris, Toronto and New York, it’s hard to build traction based on word of mouth alone. We’ve had amazing reviews from travellers and Lokafyers and many people book multiple tours so that they get a chance to meet with different people, so we’re confident we’re on the right track.
In which cities will Lokafy be available?
Lokafy is currently available in Toronto, Paris in NYC. We are considering expanding to a couple of cities in India and also Tokyo in the coming months. We will launch Lokafy in major travel destination cities first and then expand to secondary cities afterwards. Eventually I would like Lokafy to be available everywhere. Our goal is to change the way people travel; to make travel about the people we meet, not just the places we see.
How many guides work for you?
I don’t use the word guide because tour guides are professionals, and in some cities, require licenses. Since it is a new concept, someone who is part tour guide/part friend, I created a new word: Lokafyer. There are over fifty Lokafyers in Toronto and Paris. In NYC we just got started in March so there are about thirty Lokafyers. Travellers can read each Lokafyer’s profile and see their photo. They can choose based on age range, gender, interest, language and even area of the city to find the right Lokafyer who has shared interests. We recommend that travellers select three Lokafyers since each Lokafyer’s availability varies. In case a traveller hasn’t selected a Lokafyer, we choose the best person based on shared interests, language and area of the city they are familiar with.
Can you give us a sample itinerary that a Lokafyer would use in Toronto?
Each Lokafy tour is customized according to the interests of the traveller and the Lokafyer (local), so there is no set itinerary. Lokafy tours cover different neighbourhoods in the city, but the specific areas that are covered are based on where the traveller is staying and the places are generally local spots that the Lokafyers love and frequent regularly. Kensington Market, Chinatown, the Distillery District and Cabbagetown have been popular neighbourhoods. We developed a standardized tour product that is still customized, called the Welcome Tour. In the Welcome Tour, a local meets the traveller where they are staying in the city and helps them feel settled in the neighbourhood, showing them how to get around the city (e.g., how the TTC works, taxi/uber), where to eat or buy groceries, what events are going on and providing recommendations on things to see and do. It’s a great way to really feel comfortable in a new city but like all Lokafy tours, it’s also a chance for the traveller and local to get to know each other, talk about cultural differences, etiquette, etc.
Why should people use Lokafy instead of a traditional travel guide?
I feel that the experience a traditional tour guide provides is quite different from Lokafy. Tour guides are professionals who have spent a lot of time studying the city and its history and have prepared a set itinerary with a script. With Lokafy you’re meeting people with very diverse interests who are typically from outside the travel industry. Lokafy is something they do for fun; they are genuinely excited to meet new people and share their knowledge and passion for their city. The key thing that sets Lokafy apart is that it’s not just about getting better informed about the city; it’s also about getting to know a local on a personal level. The experience is a conversation, not a lecture. Ideally, a Lokafy experience is in equal parts about the city, the traveller and the local.
Want to become a Lokafyer or meet one? Visit here.