WishTrip adds digital dimension to classical tourism and adventure

Is this app like Waze for walkers?

By
October 1, 2018 05:00
Navigatiing a staircase in Haifa

Navigatiing a staircase in Haifa. (photo credit: OREN OPPENHEIM)

 
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The story behind WishTrip, an Israeli-made smartphone application designed to help travelers discover new sites and adventures, began with a couple getting lost.

At least that’s how Moshe Lifshitz, one of the creators of the Rec N’ Trek that developed the app describes it.

“One of our partners who started the company... went on a hike with his wife and they got lost,” Lifshitz told The Jerusalem Post.

The couple had their smartphones with them, and so they tried to use Waze – the popular Israeli navigation app now owned by Google – to find their way. But Waze couldn’t help them find it on foot, leaving them still stranded.

After walking for a while, they eventually found a street, Lifshitz said, and then figured out, “The place they were looking for was right behind them, behind the street that they had arrived to.”

The husband then wondered, “Why isn’t there a Waze for travelers? For hiking?”

This led him and others, including Lifshitz, to begin working on WishTrip, which helps meet the needs of travelers around the world.

Rec N’ Trek is based in Jerusalem. Lifshitz said it employs people from all sorts of sectors – haredi (ultra-Orthodox), National Religious, secular – which he feels is important for the general start-up scene.

WishTrip was first released on the Android Google Play store in October 2016 and on the iPhone App Store at the beginning of 2017. (The Post tested the Android version.)

The app’s interface is divided into four main tabs: Explore, Wish List, Profile, and an area for messages and alerts.

In Explore, the user can scroll through a graphic list of tours available nearby (using the phone’s location services) that have been uploaded by other users or organizations, or search for other tours. Any tour can be added to the Wish List tab for perusing later. The Profile tab shows how many trips the user has taken and how long the user has traveled cumulatively.

The central feature of the app is the traveling function itself, when a user either starts an uploaded hike or presses the camera shutter button at the center of the app’s homepage to start their own trek.

Using another person’s trip navigates the user to the start of that route, and then through the complete path. (The distance and projected duration of the journey can be seen in advance.)

Creating one’s own trek has the user taking pictures and placing landmarks as they travel, and tracks their journey using location services such as GPS. The trip can also be shared live with the user’s friends, giving the analog act of hiking a digital, social dimension.

At the end of the journey, the user can upload the hike to WishTrip for others to see and follow themselves.

If a user loses connection to the Internet while using the app to record a hike, the application will save their steps locally and upload the hike once the phone reconnects. Trip maps can also be downloaded in advance to be used offline.


Treks aren’t just posted by individual users, they can also be uploaded by organizations and those who oversee particular sites (such as regional councils).

“For natural reserves, zoos... a municipality, we put up all the points of interest that are interesting for people while they are there, so instead of getting all these pieces of paper, brochures and information, you could use WishTrip instead,” Lifshitz said.

This, in fact, is how the app brings in revenue, as organizations pay for this sort of service. It helps the sites publicize themselves also, and people overseeing tourist sites can see what someone recorded while watching a lion at the zoo, or on a hike in the Galilee, or in any other location.

Lifshitz said more than 30,000 people traveled in the Galilee last month using WishTrip, and that the Galilee-based sites which partnered with WishTrip can see that data.

Lifshitz said the company is working to make the application comply with the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation laws, which help safeguard user privacy and security.

This writer tried out a simple user-uploaded trek, “A short night tour in Mahaneh Yehuda.” Since I started from the Agrippas Street end of the famous marketplace itself and didn’t choose to reverse the route, the app guided me in a roundabout way – through a bit of the religious Mekor Baruch neighborhood – to the start of the trek.

Not that I minded, it was interesting to see the yeshivot and tree-lined streets of Mekor Baruch on such a nice day. As I walked, the app showed my location and distance traveled. At points I left digital text notes (“Watch for cars turning into the parking lot”) and took a picture, thinking my notes were being added to that user’s trek. A generic text-to-voice narrator told me when to turn.

Once I got back to Jaffa Road near the shuk, the trek started in earnest. There were a few points along the way, down Jaffa Road and then through the indoor portion of the shuk, where I could tap on the app to see pictures others had posted or to read a quick note (mostly in Hebrew). But overall, the app mainly acted for me as a navigational tool, probably for the best because the shuk can be very crowded and difficult to navigate at points.

When I reached the Agrippas Street end of the shuk once more, having followed the path without stopping (except to try a sample from Halva Kingdom), the virtual voice congratulated me on finishing the hike. After I tapped the shutter button to finish, I found that my trip, notes and pictures had all been uploaded to WishTrip as an entirely new trek – including the Mekor Baruch portion. In other words, by trying to follow someone else’s trek, I had created my own new adventure that others could follow.

It’s not necessary to post your travels to the Internet. The app makes it possible to make a trek visible only to friends or the user.

A longtime hiker and traveler himself, Lifshitz said he’s hiked in the Americas, Africa, Asia and Europe, and also bikes and travels a lot in Israel. Most of his travels are here. He likes the Judean Desert and the Negev in particular.

Lifshitz has lofty goals for the app. “We believe we’re going to be the No. 1 app for traveling around the world.” He said the tourism industry isn’t very well-connected digitally, beyond flight and hotel bookings, and that WishTrip aims to help it become more digitally connected.

Lifshitz has been following the shift toward app-aided travel for a while. “My mom, for her, it used to be difficult to go to a different city, a [new] location was a big hassle and [caused] a lot of worries. She was worried about how she was going to get to a different city,” he said. “Now she just puts the name in Waze and she gets to wherever she wants.

“We want to have that same impact in the hiking and traveling industry,” he continued, and the app should allow people to explore areas without the anxiety of not being sure where to go or what to do.

“People should go out and travel, enjoy,” he said, adding that if you use the app, “you’ll see how many more special places are right near your house.”

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