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Detour, The Walking Tour Audio App, Rolls Out Stories In 6 New Cities

Travelers can now explore locales in New York, Berlin, Marrakech, and beyond.

Detour—the audio tour app released earlier this year from former Groupon CEO Andrew Mason—unveiled 10 new tours in six new cities today: New York, Barcelona, London, Paris, Berlin, and Marrakech.

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Initially rolled out in Austin and San Francisco in February, Detour will now offer a total of 21 audio tours in eight cities.

The app uses an iPhone’s GPS and iBeacons to precisely pinpoint a user’s location as they wend through the streets guided by a pre-recorded audio tour. (Mason, who gave Fast Company an inside look into Detour back in November on the Innovation Uncensored San Francisco stage, says an Android version will be out later this year.) While museums are upgrading the old recorded audio tour model with app-based options of exhibits, Detour takes the concept outside to some of the most storied streets of the world’s cities.

Andrew Mason

One of the best-known tours among the early offerings was a journey to San Francisco’s famed Fisherman’s Wharf, complete with narration from a local fisherman, whom Mason said his team found after an hours-long stakeout by the water. This added authenticity “gives you a path to the heartbeat of what makes that place what it is and the people that identify with it,” he says.

The new slate of tours highlights local personalities like former Sopranos actor Vinny Vella on a tour through New York’s Little Italy. The Marrakech version takes adventurers through Jemaa el Fna, and past the snake charmers, monkey trainers, and exotic personalities who work in the ancient marketplace.

“We were trying to pick places that seemed interesting to us but also places where Americans commonly traveled,” says Mason. “Doing cities like Marrakech or Barcelona that are a little bit less familiar than New York or London give us an opportunity to show what Detour is really good at—taking you to a place that feels alien and making it feel as if these are people just like you.”

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But even as Detour doubles its tour offering in 2015, the real expansion will come next year, says Mason, who has plans for the app to become a platform for others to host their own tours; a private beta of creative tools will be available later this year. Instead of aligning with a user-generated content model like Yelp, though, Mason wants Detour to be a marketplace for audio tour creators. Currently, the app charges $5 for American tours and $8 for international ones.

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While Mason says the tours tick off some must-do items for each city, they’re not exactly focusing on well-trod tourist traps. One of the new New York tours is called “Hasidic Williamsburg,” and includes a men’s and women’s tour that goes through a day in the life of a sequestered Hasidic community in Brooklyn. Berlin’s tour is dubbed “Ungovernable Kreuzberg,” about the hedonistic neighborhood that sprung up with the construction of the Berlin Wall and remains “ungovernable” today. “Summer of Anarchy” revisits Barcelona’s anarchist revolution in the 1930s during the Spanish Civil War.

“We’re not building Angry Birds. We’re not building something light,” Mason says. “We’re building something that’s supposed to move people, and we’re building a platform for great storytelling. I guess some of those stories can be heavy.”

While the tour topics and neighborhoods can be off the beaten path, user safety hasn’t been an issue, says Mason. (The app prompts users to accept that they’re “taking their lives into their own hands” by participating in each walking tour.) And the GPS technology forbids users from listening to tours at home—you’re meant to get out and explore.

“We wanted to build these experiences that front as being entertainment, but they’re really getting you out into the world and putting you in places and forcing confrontations with the real world and its rough edges and giving you a deeper appreciation for it,” Mason says.