00:12 Chris Ronan: Hi, everybody. Welcome to Inside Geocaching HQ. This is the podcast from the Geocaching HQ office in Seattle, Washington. I am Chris Ronan. My username is Rock Chalk, I am one of the staff members here at HQ. And we are very glad that you would download our podcast. I had the pleasure of meeting a number of folks that listen to the podcast at the GeoWoodstock Giga-Event in Cincinnati, Ohio late last month, and it was a real pleasure to meet a lot of you and to hear your questions and some suggestions that you had for the podcast. If you weren’t at GeoWoodstock, if you have suggestions that you would like to let us know about, you can do that very easily, firstname.lastname@example.org is the address. If you have a topic idea, if you have a question that you like to ask, please send that to us, we always love to receive those emails. Again, it’s email@example.com.
01:15 CR: So it’s that time of the year when people are often planning and going on vacations, so I thought it would be a great time to talk about GeoTours, which can be a great way to see new places. They’re something that I have always enjoyed a lot myself as a player especially because many GeoTours have a reward if you find a certain number of caches, oftentimes, it’s a geocoin. I’ve earned other types of reward but whatever it is, it’s always cool to have just a little extra incentive for going out there and finding a bunch of geocaches. Not that you need a reward for finding geocaches, geocaching is its own reward, I’m just saying it’s nice to have a little something extra and that’s what you often get from GeoTours.
02:05 CR: And so I have asked Jenn Seva to join us here on the podcast. MissJenn is her username, you may have met her over the years. She has worked at HQ for a long time, has a lot of great experiences as a player, as a volunteer reviewer, which she was many years ago before she came to work here at HQ. And now, she has been here for many years and has been heading up the GeoTours team for quite a while, and she has some great insights into GeoTours and how they work. And so that’s what we will be chatting about today. So without any further ado, here is me and MissJenn talking about GeoTours.
02:49 CR: Well, let’s just start with how you got into geocaching because you have a long history with geocaching long before you worked at Geocaching HQ.
02:57 Jenn Seva: I do. Whoa. So in 2001, I won a GPS unit at a Christmas raffle drawing in the club I was in at the time, it was a Jeep Club, and I had no idea what to use it for. [chuckle] I actually tried to trade it for a set of wrenches ’cause I could use that, and I didn’t know what a GPS would be for. And one person in the club told me about geocaching. Again, it’s 2001 and he’s like, “It’s kind of an underground movement.” And of course today, it’s not, but that’s how it started. A long time ago, my first attempt to find a geocache was the day after Christmas, I DNF’d and that hooked me ’cause of course, I had to correct that.
03:48 CR: Of course.
03:49 JS: Of course. Yeah. And it’s been a good long road since then.
03:54 CR: And besides playing, you were also a volunteer then eventually, and that that’s right?
04:00 JS: Yeah. So I was in Pennsylvania, I was getting super into the game, I was asked to be a community volunteer reviewer. I was very pleased about this of course, and so I was the reviewer named MissPlaced, and not too big of a mystery to connect the player name to the reviewer name, and then a few years later, I moved to Seattle and became an employee.
04:28 CR: So you’ve been here for many years and have done a number of things over that time.
04:33 JS: I have. I started with working with the community volunteers, something clearly I had experience with, and then I have since moved to the business development team, I’m the Senior Manager of the Travel and Tourism Team, and yeah, we work on GeoTours, and the team includes some other people. Some of the listeners of this show may know Jeff, gearguru. We also have Laura, lolosmitty and Meg, MegsKBrown.
05:03 CR: So the main topic of this conversation is GeoTours. For people that might not be familiar with them, what is a GeoTour? And what is it all about? And why should people be excited about them?
05:15 JS: Well, GeoTours are basically a combination of travel and tourism. It’s something that many geocachers already do and we created a set of tools on web and on mobile, so basically GeoTours are official collections of caches. They work really well because you can go to a city or a park, a region, a destination, and it’s a self-guided way to see the area. It’s a curated, frequently themed set of caches, and so your visit has been essentially prepared by people who are local, who know what sites to see in the area with geocaching. It’s a great way to plan a vacation.
06:00 CR: And how long have GeoTours been around?
06:03 JS: We launched the first GeoTours in June of 2012, so that was six years ago. And in that time frame we’ve had over 100 GeoTours. There are some that have retired because they were, for example, celebrating the centennial of something. So that was meant to be a one-year celebration. There are others that have been around for the entire time that GeoTours have existed. And of course, everyone in between, some are three years old, some are four. Sometimes people ask me what the GT codes mean. For example, if there is a GT78, that doesn’t mean it’s the 78th GeoTour, it’s a numerical system that is similar to GC codes. And so those of you who are listeners on this show, you know GC codes are not in numerical order like 001, 002. There’s an algorithm and so GT codes follow the similar algorithm. Right now, it’s just four digits, GT something, something. We look forward to many more GeoTours in the future and pretty soon we’ll have five-digit GT codes and six-digit GT codes, just like GC codes have increased over time. Yeah, we look forward to more.
07:29 CR: So how does a GeoTour come to be? Does your team go out and find them? Do organizations approach you?
07:37 JS: We usually get an inquiry from a park system or a tourism organization, sometimes a Chamber of Commerce, sometimes, and actually more and more recently, we get an inquiry from a geocacher and we attempt to connect that geocacher with, again, a tourism organization in the area or a park system in the area. ‘Cause really those are the kinds of hosts that have this interest in bringing people to their destination. And we just start the conversation from there. What are the goals of that organization? Is it about educating people about what’s in the park system? Is it about more of a travel and tourism goal? Staying in the area for a few days, a few nights? Different GeoTours have different goals and we try to make sure to strategize so that it’s great for that organization and for the geocacher.
08:37 CR: And from what I understand, you guys sometimes will try to put… If it is an organization that comes to you, you’ll try to put them in touch with local people. I think you talked about the reverse of that, about getting the local people in touch with an organization, but in order for that organization who might not understand the game as well to put them in touch with people in the community already playing the game, they know the local lay of the land, right? And it hopefully leads to a tour that can be great for both sides.
09:06 JS: Absolutely. The best GeoTours are the ones where there is a local helper who is not a veteran of the game, but definitely experienced in the game. So we do reach out regularly to the local cachers in the area. Sometimes I will know somebody already there. Sometimes we look at the hiders in the area and see who has really good favorite points or a really good track record in the game, and we approach them and ask if they’d be willing to help. And usually we get a yes answer, and that is really appreciated. That’s the expertise that the tourism organization needs to make it interesting for the geocacher. The hides are more creative. The hints are more appropriate. The locations are interesting. And so those of you who are listening on this show, that might be you one of these days. And hopefully, if I call and ask for help, you’d be willing to entertain the thought.
10:11 CR: One of the fun developments recently is the souvenirs for GeoTours. As somebody like myself who loves GeoTours and has done a lot of them, that was fun to see that come out. And I know you were excited about it.
10:25 JS: Yeah, super excited about it. So for those of you who don’t know, I think many of you already know that as of right now there is now a completion souvenir available if you find all of the caches in a GeoTour. This just started in May. We began in the first week of May with a test of the HQ GeoTour, the small one right here outside of Geocaching Headquarters in Seattle. And then on May 22nd, we released it to all of the GeoTours that are live around the world. So if again, if you found all of the geocaches in a tour, then you get the souvenir, the completion souvenir, and each one is unique to each GeoTour. We’re super excited about it.
11:13 CR: Yeah, and now I have a reason to maybe go back to places. I’m the kind of person that usually, I wanna get the reward if there is one, and maybe that isn’t to find all of the caches on the tour. I’ll find as many as I need to, and then I’d go off to the next place and now I’m like, “Gosh, I guess I need to go back to Columbus, Georgia and finish that one,” or “I need to go back to X, Y and Z other places.”
11:36 JS: Indeed.
11:37 CR: Yeah.
11:38 JS: There’s now a new incentive, so to speak. Many GeoTours have had reward coins, or in some cases, other rewards. I’ve known GeoTours to give away valuable prizes that are not geocoins, something like an overnight stay in a hotel, or a watch, or an ATV. As of now, we have the completion souvenir and the system for earning the physical rewards is gonna be different than the completion souvenir. Again, the souvenir you earn after finding every single one of the caches, but for the physical rewards each GeoTour host chooses their own criteria. Sometimes there’s a passport and a point system, and sometimes it’s find 75% of the caches or what have you, or this specific subset. We like to keep it flexible because geocaching is really different from one part of the world to another. And it’s a game, you gotta pay attention to the rules. I’ve received a few questions since we released this code in May. What about the GeoTours that are now retired? We would love to also offer completion souvenirs for those GeoTours. But first, we wanted to see how the rollout in May would happen, and it happened really smoothly. There were a couple of bumps but they were small ones, easy to fix. I’m happy to announce for the first time on this podcast that yes, indeed, we are going to award completion souvenirs for the older GeoTours that some of you may recall. So that’s coming soon in a few weeks.
13:20 CR: And I’ll have another reason to watch my profile page. [laughter]
13:25 JS: That’s right or you’re…
13:25 CR: I was excited to see when that first rollout happened, I was kinda, “Oh,” ’cause I couldn’t remember necessarily which ones I have finished and which ones I may have missed one or two and so, yeah, I’ll be watching again.
13:38 JS: Yeah. And you can watch your profile page on both web and on mobile because it’ll notify you in both places.
13:44 CR: You talked a little bit about geocoins and other stuff like that. Now, for me as a player, that was one of the things that got me into GeoTours in the first place well before I worked here, and that was something that when my wife and I go out caching, she’s not quite as much of a freak about caching as I am but she does like when there’s a reward. Do you guys work with tour hosts? Or how much input do you have on giving them advice on maybe what other GeoTours have done or what they might wanna do with rewarding people?
14:18 JS: Sure. Yeah. We definitely spend a lot of time on strategy. Again, based on the goals of the host organization. Some of that strategy is, it plays out in how many caches are hidden, some of the strategy plays out in what rewards are available and what must you do to get that reward. We always wanna keep in mind that this is a game that people are playing. So yes, it’s challenging, but it ought to be fun the whole way through. That’s the whole reason why we’re playing is to have some fun. And so we have various carats, so to speak, at various levels. And the strategy of getting people to stay in town longer is a common one. And the reality too is that these rewards do cost the host some money. And so it’s a balance between their budget and the strategy.
15:09 CR: So as you said before, there have been a lot of GeoTours since these things started around six years ago. Are there ones that come to mind for you personally that maybe you’ve been able to go out and do some of the… I know you can’t do all of them because they’re all over the world, but are there some that come to mind that stand out for you that you’ve been able to do personally?
15:26 JS: Absolutely. Some of my favorites include the Taking Flight GeoTour, that’s in Florida. I happened to go to GeoWoodstock when it was in Florida, and so I spent an extra amount of time to do the Taking Flight GeoTour. Regrettably, I didn’t finish it because some of them required a kayak and paddling for a good long time and there was like, I don’t know, a recent storm that had fallen a tree across the waterway so that was inaccessible and there are few others I didn’t catch. So I look forward to returning ’cause that GeoTour is still live. Another favorite more recently that I did is the one in Porvoo, Finland. And what a lovely town just outside of Helsinki. I was lucky enough to be there in July when the days are really, really long in that part of the world. So that was especially enjoyable as a tourist and as a geocacher. They’ve since added a virtual cache to that GeoTour, so there’s actually one more in the tour that I hadn’t found ’cause it wasn’t there when I was there last July.
16:35 CR: Another favorite one is the Cateran Trail in Scotland and this is a now retired GeoTour. I actually was there during my honeymoon and I convinced my husband to join me for a walk along the highlands and it was such a great day with local cachers in that area. Another one that I didn’t finish, but it was still such a rewarding trip. It was so much fun even though I won’t get the completion souvenir for that one. It’s okay. I still had a great time.
17:06 CR: One of the things that I think is great about GeoTours is how they can not just be a fun thing for geocachers and hopefully a positive thing for the partner who is sponsoring it but that it can introduce the game to people in the community who aren’t geocachers, so the Muggles out there. And I think one of the examples that brought that home for me was when I went to GeoWoodstock a few weeks ago and did the Donut Trail GeoTour, the Butler County Donut Trail.
17:33 JS: Right. Yes.
17:36 CR: And it was amazing how many non-cachers I came across, not just at the Donut places, but people that were all very aware of this geocaching thing and it was very cool to see them introduced to the game in such a positive way and I would imagine that that happens in a lot of other places too.
17:56 JS: Yeah. GeoTours are definitely a great way to introduce the game of geocaching to just a regular tourist to a city or to a park system. And it’s positive awareness. You have support from visitor centers or park rangers, and in the cases where there’s a physical passport, that makes it even easier for a newbie to better understand the concept. And of course, with the app, the Geocaching mobile app has a special section for GeoTours and it makes it really easy because when you use that section of the app you can focus just on the caches that are part of the GeoTour. As we all know, geocaching can be really distracting. There are so many caches out there. But for a new person, it might be easier for them to focus on, for example, just the Donut Trail GeoTour and ignore all the other ones, or just the Uncover Metro Park’s GeoTour around Columbus, Ohio and ignore the many hundreds of other caches in the area.
18:55 CR: You spoke about this briefly earlier, but let’s talk about it again. If somebody thinks, “Gosh, we’ve got these cool places in our town and we think this could be a GeoTour type of a situation.” If a cacher is thinking that, what should they do? Should they go straight to their local CBB? Should they email HQ? What’s the right way to go about it?
19:16 JS: There’s a couple of different right ways to go about it. It depends on how much you already know about GeoTours. If you’re totally new to it, which I would be surprised if you’re listening to this show and you had never heard of a GeoTour. I would start with going to geocaching.com/travel. It’s a bit of an introduction that is really targeted to a tourism professional. It’s not so much a page for geocachers. And so if you are a geocacher, it gives you an idea of the kinds of questions that are important to the Chamber of Commerce, or the park system, or again, the tourism organization. On that page also is a very short, and I think, really fun video explaining GeoTours from the point of view of three different GeoTour hosts. That’s very effective. If you’re gonna make a presentation to someone local and you’re hoping to convince them to host a GeoTour, that little, I think it’s two minutes and 45 seconds, that short video is really effective. I invite you to take a look.
20:23 CR: Another right answer, if you think your destination could use a GeoTour, is for you to approach the event organizers in your region, especially if they’re a mega event organizer. I’ve found that frequently those folks have already been in touch with the right people in the tourism industry. So a lot of your work may already be done if you go this direction. The other right way to do it is go ahead and email us, firstname.lastname@example.org. And so that’s GeoTours with an S at the end, @geocaching.com. We’re happy to help you if you’re just unsure of how to move forward.
21:04 CR: So there you have it, Jenn Seva, aka Miss Jenn, and a lot of great information about GeoTours. If you would like to get started on becoming a GeoTours geek, like me, you can go to geocaching.com/geotours, and there is a list of GeoTours all over the world. I am personally, right now, planning a trip to Utah, here in the States, to take on the Utah GeoTour. So lots of great vacation ideas there on that GeoTours list. If you have an idea for an upcoming podcast subject, you can send us an email, email@example.com is our address. We would love to hear from you. Until then, from all of us at Geocaching HQ, happy caching.