App Connects Tourists With Guides To Unique Outings

By Richard Thompson The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La.

WWR Article Summary (Tl;dr) Fuhwe -- the winner of New Orleans Startup Weekend last fall -- hopes to attract travelers who are seeking experiences that are off the beaten path and want to see the city as locals do. The app breaks down experiences into categories such as art, dining, history, music and sports. It lets users connect with guides, who can answer questions and schedule a tour to make some extra money. For women in business in "The Crescent City" this may be a good opportunity to get your biz (restaurant, store, service) on the map...I mean app!

The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La.

Looking for a more authentic New Orleans experience?

There's an app for that.

Fuhwe -- named after a Caribbean expression meaning "for us" -- was developed by entrepreneurs Patricia Maher and Shawn Louis to connect tourists with local guides who can take them on unique outings and experience New Orleans beyond the French Quarter.

The platform launched last month as a website that's accessible using a computer or smartphone; the app is due for release soon.

The software breaks down experiences into categories such as art, dining, history, music and sports. It lets users connect with guides, who can answer questions and schedule a tour to make some extra money.

Fuhwe -- the winner of New Orleans Startup Weekend last fall -- hopes to attract travelers who are seeking experiences that are off the beaten path and want to see the city as locals do. It's a trend that's given rise to online sites like Airbnb.

The concept is similar to Vayable, which has been around for several years and aims to become "the global platform for real-life experiences" in many major metropolitan cities -- including New Orleans.

Many travelers are "extremely interested in the authentic experience," said Bridget Bordelon, an associate professor who studies cultural tourism at the University of New Orleans.

"That means trying to avoid the sun, sand and sea trap and see a little bit more of what's really going on with locals," she said.

Among Fuhwe's initial offerings: a 90-minute cultural tour along O.C. Haley Boulevard in Central City, $25; a two-hour stroll through the Garden District, featuring a trip to Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, $30; and a half-hour fitness class at the W Hotel in the French Quarter, $20.

"We're not taking people out for a plantation tour," Maher said. "That's already covered. We're doing more authentic experiences in the city itself."

In the way the cab industry has been rocked by ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft, Bordelon wonders if the city's traditional tour operators will lose business from the new competition. On the other hand, the service takes travelers beyond the city's downtown, she said, which can be a good thing.

"This is a great opportunity for different neighborhoods to experience tourism, and this is really what we're going for as a city," she said.

Maher hopes to expand the platform to other cities in the future. Maher and Louis are citizens of the island of Grenada, but she moved to New Orleans last year.

"We love to travel, and while we're traveling, we always said the best memories that we have are from when we met the local people, we heard the local accent and we learned the local tricks," she said in describing how they came up with their idea. "We've met some fantastic people on our travels."

With Fuhwe, tour guides design an outing and determine the cost, which varies based on length and what's involved. Afterward, they're paid by direct deposit once the tour is over and has been rated by its participants.

Signing up to lead an experience requires having a tour guide permit that's issued through the city, a stipulation that involves passing a federal background check and bars applicants who were recently convicted of a felony. The permits last two years and cost $50 and $20 to renew. Applicants also must have a valid state-issued ID and pass a written exam on the city's history and culture.

"That's a very good vetting process," Maher said.

The initial crop of guides to sign up included authors, teachers or people who were already tour guides, she said. "It's a melting pot," she said, "and that's how we want it to be because it's all about diversity and inclusion."

JoAnn Bruster, who has led the tours along O.C. Haley, said she received her guide permit early this year. She led groups through other parts of the city, including the French Quarter, before signing up with Fuhwe.

Now, she's excited to take visitors through a stretch where she spent a lot of time growing up.

"I just want everybody to come and visit and take a stroll on the boulevard," she said.

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