When Kevin Maloney started to plan his trip to Iceland, a friend mentioned a new service called ViaHero. “I knew there was a lot to see in Iceland and I had a short period of time. I didn’t want to spend a lot of personal time doing the research,” Maloney says. “My goal was to have an expert map it out for me.”
He was looking for someone with expert knowledge of the area, but tailored to exactly what Maloney wanted to do on vacation. “It wouldn’t have been difficult identifying some of the big landmarks, like Blue Lagoon,” he says. “But it would have been hard for me to identify great local food spots, or natural springs that aren’t in the guide books.”
So he signed up for the service and received a local “Hero” in Iceland.
“My Hero was awesome to work with,” Maloney tells me. “Very helpful and nailed the activities that we wanted to do after a short online interview.” By recommending a great restaurant that opened earlier than others, Maloney’s Hero made sure he’s be able to have a worthy breakfast upon landing from his overnight flight.
“Instead of searching around, I knew exactly where to go.”
What is ViaHero?
ViaHero allows travelers to select a local to plan their trip. The service has locals in Cuba, Japan, and Iceland so far, but it’s expanding quickly. “Every trip is personalized by an in-the-know local, called a Hero,” explains Ben Preston, Co-Founder and Head of Growth for ViaHero.
“The Heroes provide travel consulting, on-the-ground arrangements, and build a personalized guidebook and custom maps with local recommendations,” Preston says. “Travelers save time, discover hidden gems, and have everything they need at their fingertips on the ViaHero mobile app.”
Many independent travelers lack the time and local knowledge to expertly plan an international trip, especially if it’s off-the-beaten-path. And increasingly, people want unique, local experiences.
“A traveler can spend over thirty hours planning a trip, they can wing it once they get there, or they can use a travel agent who lacks local knowledge and is incentivized to sell the traveler a more expensive trip,” says Preston. “It’s easier, cheaper, and faster to have a local arrange everything. Our users have been able to drive classic cars in Cuba, see the Northern Lights at hidden spots in Iceland, and have the best food in Tokyo—all thanks to their local Heroes.”
ViaHero launched in 2016 with Cuba as the first destination. The company capitalized on a surging interest in Cuba despite the lack of online travel recommendations due to the long-upheld Cuba travel ban. ViaHero expanded to Iceland and Japan in 2017, and it’s slated to expand to destinations across South America, Asia, and Europe in 2018.
How Does ViaHero Work?
“ViaHero is like a travel agent for the Airbnb crowd,” says Preston. The service targets travelers who want to travel to places like Cuba, Iceland, and Japan without paying for an expensive, guide-led group tour.
ViaHero uses actual locals, or Heroes, to plan each trip from $25 per day. For example, a traveler who wants the inside scoop on Cuba can have Lianet, a Cuban journalist and self-professed foodie, on their side.
ViaHero also provides rich, useful trip plans in an offline mobile app. This includes trip consulting, booking recommendations, and a personalized guidebook. ViaHero’s premium plan, which costs $40 per day, includes features like offline map navigation, on-the-ground phone support, and restaurant reservations.
While Maloney speaks very favorably about the service, his one caveat was the maps. “They didn’t do a great job of mapping out the landmarks for our self-driving tours. They did identify the best ones to see—and nailed it—but didn’t provide detailed directions on how to find them. They work with the maps.me app, but it wasn’t intuitive.”
But Maloney says he would use the service again, and would recommend it to others. “It’s great for those who want to get the most out of a vacation.”
More from SmarterTravel:
- Everything I’d Read About Cuba Was a Lie
- Following the Samurai: Hiking the Nakasendo Way in Japan
- Cuba Travel Tips: What You Need to Know Before Traveling from the U.S.