Travel by definition is not static — it's being on the move, with changing locations and changing perspectives. In a new series, Travel + Leisure is profiling some of the game changers in the travel sphere that are taking innovation on the road.

Jessica Plautz
November 20, 2017

Some of the ways technology has changed travel are obvious, like having more fuel efficient (or even fuel-less) cars, or being able to see real-time traffic on your route before you head out the door. But other ways technology makes waves can come as a surprise. Take, for example, the walking tour.

As podcasting has found its niche, there's another audio artform on the rise. Detour creates immersive audio tours, combining quality storytelling with location tracking technology.

Related: Detour Adds Neighborhoods Tours Guided by Local Celebrities

Travel + Leisure spoke with Stacey Book, head of production at Detour, about what she's working on and what she sees next in travel.

T+L: How would you describe what you do at Detour?

“At Detour I head up the content division, and our team is in charge of creating the immersive audio walks, runs, and rides that you find in the Detour app. There is nothing more amazing than seeing a Detour come to life. Largely because at the heart of what I do is storytelling ... We’re going to safely immerse you in a place that you might never engage with on your own, and tell you about it from a perspective you might never have access to on your own, and you come out of the experience feeling like you genuinely understand this place.”

T+L: What about Detour is innovative?

“The technology is magical. There’s nothing else like it. The location tracking means that you can press play, put your phone in your pocket, and just go. And someone will guide you every step of the way, tell you when to turn, show you hidden secrets in the architecture you’d never otherwise notice, and tell you what you should ask the shopkeeper for. You aren’t being shuffled along in a big pack, following a guide with a fuzzy stick — you’re on your own — your own time, and you look like a local.

Courtesy of Stacey Book

“You can sync the audio with a friend or a group, so everyone hears the same audio at once, making it a social experience — which is brand new for audio tours. We have developed the ability in certain cases to ‘choose your own adventure,’ and we can build tours that function more like games, played out in the real world. But at the end of the day the tech is just what elevates the medium, what really blows you away are the stories. Like being given a personal tour of The Castro in San Francisco by Cleve Jones and hearing about his own personal role in the gay rights movement, or having Ken Burns walk you across the Brooklyn Bridge, or a real Mi5 spy show you around Mayfair in London.”

T+L: How do you see technology impacting travel, right now and in the future?

“Right now there is a lot of travel tech that makes traveling easier, more convenient, and gives you access to more options. I think the ability of tech to not just inform your travels but to make your experience traveling more meaningful — that’s the future. To feel like you understand a place from the inside out, rather than view it from the outside in. Our goal is to use innovative technology with this focus, and I think we'll soon see a wave of other technology forward products that have a similar goal.”

T+L: How do you approach change?

“This a great question. I think managing, embracing, being open to change is one of the great challenges of life. I have a really healthy approach to change in my professional life — maybe not as much in my personal life! But as a content creator for a company at the intersection of technology and travel we need to be really nimble and adaptable, so we’re constantly evaluating how we think about Detour, and how to deliver content that matters in a really innovative way.”

T+L: Is there a recent project, or maybe area of your work, that changed how you see travel?

“Truthfully it was coming on board at Detour. I think I did ‘walking tours’ and ‘audio tours’ the way most people do them — half-heartedly. The information was cool ... sometimes. But all of a sudden I had this experience that was on another planet from all those things.”

T+L: Have you taken a trip that changed how you see the world or your work?

“I’ve obviously traveled for work with Detour — and before this I worked in television, so I’ve done a lot of work from an airplane seat! But if I look back, I remember traveling to Cuba in college, and it being a totally transformative experience. It was the first time it struck me that the experience of travel was not just about ‘seeing the world,’ it was about being human — and there are a lot of different ways to do that! Understanding that, and finding empathy in that, was revelatory.”

T+L: Who are some of the people or project you find most interesting and innovative in travel right now?

“Airbnb is doing some interesting things. They have identified this idea that technology can help you feel like you belong somewhere, and that’s the magic sauce. We’re producing some city running tours for Nike, and they have a similar mission, to create a community — they want runners to applaud each other, because health is not a competition, and I just love that message.”

T+L: How do you see travel changing in the next 5-10 years?

“I think travel — and independent, off-the-beaten-path travel — is going to become more accessible to more people. Technology has already brought the world closer together, and the world desperately needs us as human beings to have more empathy for each other. Travel enables that, and it’s my hope that in the future travel tech promotes it.”

Note: This interview has been lightly edited for length.

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