Lucrezia Senesi was traveling through Thailand with her family when she decided to ask a friend who lived in the area for some advice on where to go. Over the course of a few hours, Senesi learned about the best places to eat, where to go for fun at night, and where she could find the best hikes.
“I asked so many questions,” says Senesi, a senior at Northeastern who is studying business administration. “And I realized I never would’ve gotten all of this valuable information from online.”
The episode gave Senesi the idea for a website where local guides could offer customized experiences for travelers who want to immerse themselves in a foreign culture without feeling like an out-of-place tourist. She named her website EXPLORAC, and entered the project in the 2017 Husky Startup Challenge, which is a semester long program run by Northeastern’s Entrepreneurs Club to help students turn their ideas into businesses. After placing third, she says, she was inspired to work even harder.
Now, Senesi has built a global network of helpful locals ready to offer unique insights to people who find themselves in unfamiliar surroundings abroad. Users can run five kilometers through the Grand Park of Tirana, Albania, take a street food tour in the center of Genoa, Italy, or explore Tsinghua University in Beijing, China, with a local guide.
Senesi’s site offers more than 60 different experiences led by more than 80 local guides who are listed as city experts. The suggested tip for most experiences is $20.
Senesi says that locals are the best source of information for tourists who want to explore an unfamiliar city. “EXPLORAC is meant to help in places that are really culturally different,” says Senesi. “Interacting with the locals of different cultures really allows you to understand a place better.”
Pedro Gonzales has taken advantage of Senesi’s site. He was doing his masters at Hult International Business School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the spring of 2018 when he decided to go on a tour of the Museum of Fine Arts with a guide from the site. Gonzales, who is from Mexico, says the experience was simple and informative.
“It was really easy, I met my guide at the entrance and she knew about all the exhibits going on,” says Gonzales. “We kept in touch and even got coffee a couple weeks after.”
Senesi plans to expand her database of city experts. She says her next step could be forming partnerships with universities that want to use her website as an academic tool for students studying abroad.
“Every local knows their city in a unique way,” says Senesi. “Learning from them is the best way to connect to a new place.”