Tours guided by locals take visitors and residents backstage in the Big Apple
Local Expeditions allows individuals to design their own tours and will help guides get licensed.
If you're visiting New York, or even if you live here and just want to get to know the city better, there are plenty of tours of Times Square, the Statue of Liberty, the best places to eat and historic places.
But if you really want to get backstage in the Big Apple, you have to ask a local.
Brooklyn resident Nancy Blaine started Local Expeditions last year and calls the company an “anti-tour” because the excursions offered are designed by locals looking to share the stories of their neighborhoods through their eyes.
“If you haven’t seen the Statue of Liberty, you better. If you haven’t seen the Empire State Building, do it. But that’s not what we are doing,” Blaine said. “We are here to show you the other side.”
Through Local Expeditions, individuals come up with a plan for a guide through a particular area they choose. Blaine goes over the plans and the only requirements are that the tour takes three hours and 10 percent of the $40 ticket price goes to buying clients refreshments.
Another 15 percent goes to the website and 5 percent gets donated to a local nonprofit of the guide’s choice which, according to Blaine, continues Local Expedition’s mission of being truly local. The rest is kept by the guide.
“What you are offering is a local experience, I am not asking you to be a history expert,” she said. “What I’m telling people is this is your game, do what you want.”
Although anyone is able to apply to be a guide and offer a tour, in New York City tour guides are required to be licensed.
However, Blaine added that she doesn’t want the potential guides to worry because she will help them in every step of the way to get their licenses —part of which requires taking a 150-question exam with subjects ranging from transportation knowledge to city history.
“I say to them, listen you just do the creative part and I’ll go in and take a look at the legal part,” she said. “ What I want to do is take the pain out of it.”
So far, Local Expeditions has offered tours of Prospect Park and Park Slope brownstones, SOHO gardens — led by a garden designer, Cabrini Heights/Fort Washington, hidden gems and treasures of Central Park, power walk through Prospect Park,photographing Coney Island, and riding CitiBike through the bridges and local sites in Dumbo, Brooklyn.
Tours are limited to a maximum of 10 people, keeping them intimate and also preventing congestion of communities and causing disruptions.
“I also wouldn’t want to bring a million tourists into your neighborhood or a huge double decker bus,” Blaine said. “You don’t want to have your neighborhood ruined.”
With an expected 59.7 million visitors expected to make their way to New York City this year, the plans are to continue to expand the tours to other boroughs in the city.
Blaine added that the tours are also open to local New Yorkers looking to learn more about their city and currently groups are made up of about half tourists and half locals.
"I think [the] name itself, 'locals tour'is a reason to take this tour in itself. She's giving us what most people wouldn't see," said New Yorker Kira Zay who took a tour led by Blaine inDumbo on May 27."They would go to the touristy, Instagram spots. This is a little more personal and she is showing some of her favorite things."
Blaine’s future plan is to not only restrict Local Expeditions to New York City, she said she hopes the company’s website will be the platform for these local tours to stretch nationwide.
Currently there is one tour being offered in Boston, with plans to expand, and also ideas are going around to start tours in New Hampshire.
“I want it to be a name that spreads across the country,” she said. “ Like Airbnb, where people look for these particular tours in other cities.”
Additional reporting by Bess Adler