Secret City Trails Is Changing How We Discover Cities
Interview with co-founder Wendy van Leeuwen

Through fun and engaging city discovery games, Secret City Trails aims to change how travelers enjoy destinations.

We talk with Wendy van Leeuwen, co-founder of Secret City Trails (www.secretcitytrails.com), a marketplace for city discovery games made by locals. She’s passionate about designing experiences that spark spontaneity, playfulness and joy. Originally from The Netherlands, she currently calls Lisbon home.

Wendy took part of Startup Pitch webinar on Travel Massive LIVE where she won the opportunity to share more about her project with us on the blog. Read on to learn more about Secret City Trails.

How was the idea of Secret City Trails born?

Kristina, my co-founder, and I met when working for Nike in 2014. We both knew we’d eventually leave our corporate roles and build our own business. Two years later we did, together.

We were meeting up one weekend and realised we kept going to the same (hipster) cafes for brunch, same bars for drinks, same cute coffee houses – over and over. We rarely spontaneously discovered new places in our own city (Amsterdam at the time).

We asked ourselves how we could change our behaviour. This was when the idea for a city discovery game – which guides you to cool, local spots – was born, and implemented in Amsterdam.

By solving a trail of riddles from one place to the next, you discovered cafes, design spaces, art galleries, free museums, curious bars and more! It was an experience designed for locals to fall in love with their own city again. Soon after our first game in Amsterdam, we made one when we travelled to Bratislava (Kristina is from Slovakia), and then other cities followed. Our games are now enjoyed by both locals and travellers in more than 50 cities across Europe.

Tell us more about Secret City Trails. What makes it unique?

First, we started our games for locals. Which means our experiences truly takes you beneath the surface of a city and off the beaten path. We used to say, by locals (creators of the games), for locals. Today we say, by the curious for the curious.

Second, our trails are self-guided discovery games, which is different from the majority of the city discovery activities, think: walking tours for which you have to meet a guide in person at a fixed time, bicycle tours or bus and boat tours.

Third, our games are played via a web app – this means no download is necessary.

Fourth, our games are a sustainable way to explore a city. Games are played in teams of 1-5 (small groups) and tend to avoid crowded areas in cities.

Fifth, our local creators are paid each time their game is played. During the games, you follow in their footsteps, find their favourite local spots and unlock their curious short stories. On top of this, you get tips for local businesses along the routes.

These are the elements we believe make our city discovery games unique, but what’s most important is that our players LOVE the games. The current review score is 4,52/5 (out of nearly 3000 reviews).

How are you changing the future of travel?

We are changing how we discover and enjoy cities. Until recently there was no innovation in city discovery activities. Yes, it’s become easier to book tours with locals. But all activities still require pre-booking and meeting a guide in person.

We’re offering a new kind of experience. Self-guided games, following in the footsteps of locals without having to meet the person at a fixed time. All our games are instantly bookable and don’t require any app downloading.

What’s more is that we’re bringing play to city discovery. Gamification has been applied in many industries and we’re excited to bring it to the travel industry.

How can the Travel Massive community get involved?

As we shared before, all games are created by locals. Anyone can become a local game creator. (www.secretcitytrails.com/become-a-game-builder/) We’d love to hear from more Travel Massive community members who know their cities inside-out and love writing.

Of course, we’re always on the lookout for partners / collaborators to spread the word about our games in our 50 cities (across Europe and Singapore).

What’s next for you in 2020?

We recently announced our investment from – and partnership with – Transavia Airlines (part of the Air France – KLM Group). We’re super excited about bringing our games to their flyers.

We also look forward to keep expanding in our existing cities by adding more games and launching in new cities.

Our focus this year is very much on raising awareness for this new category of city discovery and on having even more people experience the joy of playing city discovery games.

Check out this short video explaining how Secret City Trail works:

– Thanks, Wendy, for sharing your story with us. We wish you lots of success in 2020!

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2 years ago
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