If you’re on a staycation and you’ve run out of things to watch on Netflix, here’s an alternative: Call someone living in Siem Reap, Cambodia, and he’ll take you on a one-on-one tour of local temples and floating villages. For 45 minutes, the cost is $17.
Cooee, a website that connects would-be travelers with tour guides in Cambodia, Croatia, Nepal, and elsewhere, was launched by a small tour company early in the pandemic.
“My immediate thoughts went to our guides,” says Steve Wilson, cofounder of Aspiring Adventures, the New Zealand-based tour company that started the new platform and that was in the middle of giving tours in Peru when the coronavirus shut down travel. (Cooee is an Australian Aboriginal word meaning “come here,” but is now commonly used in Australia and New Zealand to call over long distances.) The company wanted to make sure that guides could still earn a living, and decided to quickly move tours online.
Some other sites have similar offerings. Amazon has a platform called Explore that will let you take a virtual tour of kitchen stores in Tokyo or a wildcat preservation center in Costa Rica. Airbnb has a new platform called Experiences that lets you attend, for example, an online cooking class in a home in Thailand.
Cooee is different because each tour is customized; before it begins, you’re able to tell the guide what you’re interested in seeing. (In the beginning, when many of the destinations were under lockdown, guides had to improvise from their homes; one Peruvian guide set up a tent in his living room and talked virtual travelers through the experience of hiking the Inca trail.)
Through the tours, you can choose to walk on a beach in Fiji, join a woman currently traveling around Australia in an RV, or explore the foothills of the Himalayas. After picking a time that works in both time zones, you’ll call your guide over Zoom.
Wilson says that he expects the service to continue after the pandemic, as people use it to plan a trip or in cases where someone doesn’t want to fly because of a disability or illness. “It expands the possibilities for a travel experience,” he says.