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Tagalong app: Let your smartphone be your tour guide to Pittsburgh

| Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2015, 9:00 p.m.
Nathan Wadding, of Canonsburg, uses the Tagalong Tour app prior to taking the Downtown Pittsburgh Public Art tour on Thursday, June 11, 2015.
Guy Wathen | Trib Total Media
Nathan Wadding, of Canonsburg, uses the Tagalong Tour app prior to taking the Downtown Pittsburgh Public Art tour on Thursday, June 11, 2015.
Linda Colgan, bottom left, of McCandless, takes a photo of her daughter, Sarah, with the 'Sidewalk Judge' sculpture in Gateway Center Plaza downtown on Thursday, June 11, 2015. The pair were participating in the first official Tagalong Tour in downtown Pittsburgh.
Guy Wathen | Trib Total Media
Linda Colgan, bottom left, of McCandless, takes a photo of her daughter, Sarah, with the 'Sidewalk Judge' sculpture in Gateway Center Plaza downtown on Thursday, June 11, 2015. The pair were participating in the first official Tagalong Tour in downtown Pittsburgh.
Tagalongtour.com co-founder Jackie Vesci, of Baldwin, helps to lead the Downtown Pittsburgh Public Art tour on Thursday, June 11, 2015.
Guy Wathen | Trib Total Media
Tagalongtour.com co-founder Jackie Vesci, of Baldwin, helps to lead the Downtown Pittsburgh Public Art tour on Thursday, June 11, 2015.

A new tourism technology startup aims to be a catalyst for community connection.

Tagalong Tour has developed an eponymous app that offers free, self-led tours throughout Pittsburgh. It's built to invite users to learn more about the city and explore out-of-the-way neighborhoods.

“We can provide the information that allows people to explore the area by foot and really understand (it) outside the major tourist attractions,” says Jackie Vesci, one of the company's founders.

That app includes tours of East Liberty, Carnegie, Downtown, the Strip District, the North Shore riverfront trail and a pinball tour of Lawrenceville. Vesci is developing an architecture tour of Grant Street, Downtown, and tours of Polish Hill and Mt. Washington.

Each tour includes route maps with stopping points, photos and the area's history.

The app only covers Pittsburgh, but the company says their template can be successful in cities nationwide.

Tagalong formed out of a weekend event to create startups in Pittsburgh last year. The six founders — Jason Agostoni, Irwin Hurst, David Primm, Andy Miller, Karen Tang and Vesci — lead the company, too. Most of the staff have programming and software engineering backgrounds.

Vesci, 31, is a Baldwin-Whitehall native who runs the company, based at the Hardware Store, a co-working space in Allentown, during the day. She creates most of the tours.

The app is a local iteration of a national trend toward integrating technology and tourism, finding ways to generate data about how many people are visiting a place and for what reason.

Cities are increasingly looking to travel app data to track user experience and preference, says Primm, a team member and owner of Primm Research, which does tourism and market economics reports for companies.

“There's certainly a lot of products where folks are trying to identify, ‘How can we promote our region, how can we collect some data on users while they're in the area?'” he says. “I think that's what Tagalong does efficiently. It's a product that not only works for tourists, but also for people that live in the area.”

Tagalong aims to make money through advertisements and sponsorships from businesses and destination-marketing organizations who want to draw tourists and residents to certain communities and attractions.

“It's a matter of data,” says Josh Lucas, founder of the Hardware Store in Allentown. “An app like Tagalong tours can tell you a lot about people who are visiting your business and people who aren't visiting your business and allow you to make strategic decisions,” he says.

The app is the only one of its kind focused on Pittsburgh, but there are others, like Detour, founded by Pittsburgh-native and Groupon founder Andrew Mason, that are paid audio tours focused on international tourist destinations. Tagalong is a shorter, self-tailored model. Though Pittsburgh is not a large-scale tourist destination, there's enough local traction to help it grow, Primm says.

The Tagalong company does not yet have revenue, but the app has been downloaded more than 225 times since the beginning of the week. Downloads increase by about 10 percent per week on average, according to the company.

The app may eventually include interactive Yelp-like features where tour participants can rate the tour and the restaurants and shops on it, make comments and maybe design their own tour for other users to take.

The app is not used by VisitPittsburgh, but helping tourists get around is good, spokesman Tom Loftus says.

“The ease of doing that is something that visitors on the move are looking for,” he says.

As Pittsburgh's technology and startup scene grows, new travel opportunities will, too, Vesci says.

“There is definitely an opportunity in these devices that we all carry around and the fact that we're so connected now,” she says. “I think our app will really be well positioned in that economy whenever transportation is easily available and people are looking for local experiences and they want to discover what's unique about a place.”

Katelyn Ferral is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5627 or kferral@tribweb.com.

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