Wikiloc: Blazing Trails for Geotourism

Nobody was more surprised that Wikiloc’s website for crowdsourcing hiking and walking trails was a winner of the Changemakers / National Geographic 2009 Geotourism Challenge than its founder, Jordi Ramot.

The soft-spoken, pony-tailed software engineer was invited to travel from his home in the Pyrenees mountains in northeast Spain to the annual Geotourism Change Summit at National Geographic’s headquarters last week in Washington, D.C. where he was “amazed to be able to work with people from National Geographic.”

Ramot was a featured speaker at the Change Summit and accepted a US$5,000 award (left, with Changemakers Executive Director Charlie Brown) for being one of three projects voted by the Changemakers online community to be winners of the 2009 Geotourism Challenge: Power of Place, hosted by Ashoka Changemakers.com and National Geographic.

Ramot told summit participants how he created Wikiloc, a free website where anyone can share maps and descriptions of their favorite hiking or walking trails, and exchange recommendations, experiences, photos and videos about geotourism routes from all corners of the world.

What began as a personal hobby, and remains a one-man operation, has grown into a site where more than 110,000 visitors have posted descriptions of some 140,000 trails in more than 160 countries. New trials are being posted on Wikiloc at the rate of 9,000 each month, and visitors have translated the site into 17 languages, Ramot said.

The Wikiloc community is growing minute-by-minute at a pace that really took off last year after Google awarded Wikiloc a prize for its technology, making it a layer on Google Earth, and visibility in the Geotourism Challenge attracted public and media attention. “People heard about Wikiloc from the Changemakers / National Geograhic Geotourism award, and it immediately generated a lot of interest from the media,” Ramot said. “I was overwhelmed by contacts from the media – it was a great experience to appear on TV, the radio, and in newspapers.”

Participation in the second annual Geotourism Change Summit last week gave Ramot a chance to meet and network with other innovators, funders looking to invest in geotourism projects, tourism organizations, and media representatives. The Change Summit participants celebrated the fact that the concept of geotourism  is being accepted as a form of tourism that sustains or enhances the geographical character of a place (its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage), and the well-being of its residents.

Ramot said summit participants who had not heard about Wikiloc told him they wanted to use it to engage his community of active tourists in their geotourism projects. Getting this feedback, and seeing possible synergies, has made Ramot feel his project his worthwhile, motivating him to develop it further, he said.

Now Ramot would like to expand Wikiloc’s scope  to make it a global platform for geotourism that promotes outdoor trails of all kinds, such as gastronomic and urban architecture trails. “We noticed that the profile of our users fits perfectly with the geotourism approach: travelers who care about their own trips, who do not like to have everything prearranged, and who are exploring the destinations in advance to find there points of interest ," he said enthusiastically, noting that this is how he likes to travel himself.

When he attended a recent meeting in Mexico about sustainable tourism, in response to an invitation from the Inter-American Development Bank, Ramot said he was “overwhelmed” by the number of people from the geotourism sector who told him about difficulties attracting tourists and getting into promotional guides, saying that Wikiloc would be a good resource. “My dream is to provide a good opportunity for small destinations to promote themselves to very active travelers, so that people can find things to do after they come off a trail from hiking,” he said.

“These would be very small, local geotourism experiences – something you can’t find in the big tourism portals. It might be a small B&B or a local person who is knowledgeable and can offer to guide people – he can offer his services to people in Wikiloc.

“I think active travelers are more interested in these small, unique opportunities to get involved with the local people. That will be a differentiator for Wikiloc.”

Ramot said he hopes to upgrade Wikiloc so that travelers can rate and comment on the quality of their experiences “This will create a network of trust, and it will provide a good opportunity for small destinations to promote themselves to these very active travelers,” he said. “It will be good for travelers who will find a more complete experience now than just trails.