A city is more than a built environment, more than the architecture, monuments and museums, the bars and cafés that one can find described in travel guides (and in cases like TripAdvisor, supplemented with helpful crowd-sourced ratings). A city is also the people who live there and their stories. It is a vast collective depository of lore and legend and a reservoir of insiders’ knowledge that would take months if not years of living in the city to acquire. Admittedly, guide books do contain such insider tips and their writers make an effort to recommend things to do, see and eat that are off the beaten track. But what you wind up with is a thousand different keys to the city, whereas it might be ideal to hook up with knowledgeable locals who their own set of keys to the city to unlock the kind of experience you’re looking for.
Dopios (ντόπιος), which means ‘local’ in Greek, is an online platform that does just that. It connects visitors with locals who are willing to share their knowledge of the city—or rather, the particular version of the city they experience—with travelers. In the words of the firm’s founders, this open-market model seeks to “open up every last square mile of this world to be safe, unique and breathtaking to step onto.” The word unique is deliberate: Dopios’ directory of locals are not tour guides but instead enthusiasts of one sort or another. They could be cyclists or sailors, foragers of wild greens or collectors of handicrafts, denizens of underground clubs or upscale cocktail bars, gallery hounds and neighborhood historians.
The service is fairly straightforward. Both locals and visitors register with Dopios to use the service (though you can browse the listings without logging in). You’re encouraged to link your Dopios profile with your Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts as a way of enhancing your credibility and trustworthiness. Considering the traveler might be going out on a bar crawl or to someone’s house for dinner, the safety factor is understandably important. Locals are also encouraged to be interviewed by a member or associate of the Dopios network to have their identity verified, and the Dopios team is developing more ways to provide the early adopters of the platform with a sense of security and trust. Obviously, the more travelers a local has worked with—and thus, the greater the number of ratings he or she has received—the more information a traveler has to evaluate the service being offered.
Locals describe and post the experience they’re offering and the price. Recent entries in the directory include a stroll to the studios of local craftsmen, a motorcycle excursion to the hills outside Athens, an afternoon of personal shopping, and a sail to the island of Evia. Ah, yes, and a home-cooked meal. Locals can also list their availability to provide general advice about Athens, help on planning the trip and mobile support while the traveler is in the city. Visitors browse through the listings to find an experience they’re interested in or can request a custom one, and then use the platform to contact the local and make arrangements. The Dopios team reports having received 1500 emails from people who expressed interest in becoming a local and more than 300 profiles are in progress.
Dopios was founded by Manolis Kounelakis, Nikos Sarilakis, Anand Henry, and Alex Trimis, who are based in San Francisco. The team is rounded out with Evi Choursanidi, who serves as community manager in Greece. Although the project was launched for Athens, the platform is open now for London, San Francisco and Istanbul, with plans to extend it soon to other countries.
Though the name of the platform comes from the Greek, it also brings to mind the Italian doppio, or double. By overlaying the sights and delights of the city with a layer of the personal, Dopios provides a double service to both traveler and local by giving each an opportunity to meet new people (and the local with the chance to earn a little bit of money). It’s also a double provision of “good Greek stuff”, helping travelers experience not only the less accessible delights of the city but also the city’s greatest resource: its people.