Download a tour, then tour downtown
Tourism is getting a digital redesign. Many young travelers are tired of the cheesy guided walks and the slow, sometimes pretentious audio tours that have become the staples of urban tourism.Skip to next paragraph
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So instead, many Gen-Xers, interested in history but used to the History Channel, are plugging into podcast audio tours - entire self-guided tours that can be put on an iPod.
Travelers need only download and head downtown. Once they get to a certain street or building, they hit "play," and the music files deliver a digital dose of history.
Audissey, a CD- and MP3-based travel guide company, recently released a 27-track Boston tour laced with sound effects, theatrical readings, and a pack of local celebrities ready to describe "their" Boston.
Along the trail, Michael Patrick MacDonald - author of "All Souls," a book about growing up in South Boston - paints a picture of Paul Revere before his famous midnight ride. In addition, local cafe owner "Big Lou" DeMarco serves a slice of the Italian-influenced North End.
"We view our tours as the anti-tour," says Robert Pyles, Audissey's 20-something founder. "You get off the main streets, take an alley, walk through a building, get a real sense of the city."
The flexibility of an MP3 guide allowed Jon Petitt to choose the order and pace of his tour. When the Bostonist.com editor took the Audissey tour last December, he started one track but got distracted. No problem. He just hit "pause" and picked up where he'd left off a week later.
"It was great. I didn't have to worry about leaving the tour guide behind or losing any money," says Mr. Petitt. "I just had it on my MP3 player for when I wanted to start again."
Podcast walks also protect the self-conscious sightseer from looking like a tourist. All the outside world can see are the headphones, Petitt notes, which "makes it easier for someone taking a tour in the city where they live."
Audissey is only one in a quickly growing pack of companies riding the digital airwaves.
MP3 museum tours, both authorized and otherwise, have started to replace those telephone-like portable gallery guides.
The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis offers iPod docks, so patrons can download the audio tour right in the lobby. Students at Marymount Manhattan College published an unofficial tour of the Museum of Modern Art, complete with context and critiques, calling art bad when they think it stinks.
In 2002, Soundwalk tapped into a generation of travelers demanding more color with the CD release of its New York Chinatown romp and recently joined the podcast age by converting its 15-tour library to MP3 format.
Focusing on New York City, Soundwalk's tours throw listeners into a neighborhood and let them steep in its culture for an uninterrupted hour. There's no changing tracks - no hitting "pause." Narration and music are timed to match how long an average person takes to walk the path. "The point is to immerse yourself and let you be somebody else," says founder Stephan Crasneanscki. "You forget yourself and forget you have any earplugs. The idea is to let people go to Chinatown and be Chinese for an hour or go to Williamsburg and be Jews for an hour."
Mr. Crasneanscki, a French immigrant living in Manhattan, came up with the idea when his European friends came to visit. He wanted them not just to see the city but to experience it. So he took out a tape recorder, walked his favorite streets, and narrated everything his guests should take in.
This philosophy of immersion runs throughout Soundwalk's studio-produced titles, Crasneanscki says. During the Bronx River Hip-Hop Walk, host Jazzy Jay instructs listeners how to look native. "Put a little cool in your step," he says to start off the tour. "Yeah, don't walk so uptight. Yeah, relax a little. Yeah, just like me. Yeah, walk just like me."