Are you looking for a personal tour guide in Iceland? There are a lot of tours and tour companies available here in Iceland. But sometimes people are looking for a more personalized experience. They want to experience something uniquely tailored to them. Finding the right guide can be tricky but one company which is innovating in this space is SmartGuide. It was founded by entrepreneurs Haukur Viðar Jónsson and Ægir Finnsson back in 2015. Its service both enables guides to list their expertise, availability and spoken languages. Travelers can search their database to find the perfect guide for them. The service is available on the web and on an app for iPhones and Android devices.

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Jon Heidar, Editor of Stuck in Iceland Travel Magazine

I was curious to hear from Haukur about this service and he was kind enough to take time for an interview.

Haukur Viðar Jónsson and Ægir Finnsson are the founders of SmartGuide
Haukur Viðar Jónsson and Ægir Finnsson are the founders of SmartGuide

Hey Haukur, thank you for taking the time for the interview. Can you give my readers a bit of background to yourself and Smart Guide?

Sure, my pleasure!
So, SmartGuide is a startup focused on helping tour guides and local experts find new and exciting adventures and for travelers and anyone looking to book a guide, to find the perfect match in just a matter of minutes. Either by using our website or with our App, which can be found both in the Google Play store and in the Apple App store.

I could, of course, spend hours talking about SmartGuide, how much we believe in it and our mission to help link travelers with the best local knowledge available. But I will try to be as specific and on point as I can 🙂

Running in the family

My family has been in the travel industry in Iceland for around 20 years now, so I’ve been involved in tourism one way or another for many years now. And i love it!

The initial idea behind SmartGuide came from a discussion between me and my father when iI was helping his company, Gateway to Iceland, or GTIce. We wanted to figure out a solution to make it easier for the office staff to find a guide, manage all the communications and keep everything in one place. Up to that point, they were spending 2-3 hours every day searching for guides for the tours they were selling.

Bringing together travelers and guides

I then found out that this was a common problem in the industry and there was no real solution available. So I and my co-founder and CTO of SmartGuide Ægir Finnsson created it! That was the first version of SmartGuide, then called just simply Guides. Guides were just focused on helping tour operators connect with tour guides, so a B2B solution of a sort.

In just the first few months we got around 70% of the guides working in Iceland to sign up and all the big tour operators had an account. There have been over 20 thousand requests sent to guides from tour operators through SmartGuide. Today there are over 800 guides in the database here in Iceland and we are now expanding to the other nordic countries and guides in DK, NO and SE are starting to sign up.

Service for all travelers

After a Startup Bootcamp to Silicon Valley at the end of 2015 where we got mentored by many super knowledgeable people, investors, VC’s, lawyers and other founders, we found out that we were looking at the big picture the wrong way and we were leaving a lot on the table. We then pivoted a bit and stop being just a solution for tour operators and tour guides and changed our software to make it possible for anyone looking to book a guide, not just tour operators. So, directly linking the curious travelers with the best local knowledge available.

To make a long story short (sort of 😀 ), travelers can now find and book the perfect tour guide for their trips with just a few clicks. They can also chat with them and get assistance from local experts if they have questions that might be hard to find the answers to using the traditional search engines.

Describe how the service works and by what categories you can find a tour guide in Iceland?

You have options, lots of options.
To start with, you can use your computer and go to our website or you can download the SmartGuide app for Android or iOS. Once you arm yourself with the platform you wish to use, the fun can start!

You can search for specific areas/towns and find what guides are local experts in that area, or you can search for guide that is available at your desired date, offering the activity you are looking for (for an example Hiking, Nature, City walk, Food tour, Skiing, climbing etc.) and speaks the language you require. Just like on any other marketplace platform really. When you are using services like Airbnb, you search for an area, the number of beds needed, etc.

So there are in fact hundreds of combinations, everyone should be able to find the perfect match for their dream trip.

What are the most popular things people look for in the SmartGuide service?

In short, a great time! And our core aim is to make sure you have all the tools you need to make that happen. We have found that tour operators are mostly searching for driver guides or sitting bus guides. But travelers are more into specific activities, Hiking is a popular search, local food and history are also popular, walking tours around cities (not like there are many of those in Iceland 🙂 ) and towns all over the country. During this time of yeah, searches for Northern light guides and photography always go up, and we are not surprised.

Enhancing the traveling experience by finding a personal tour guide in Iceland

Having a private guide taking you to his favorite location that in most cases are not crowded with people and buses from the big companies will enhance your experience tremendously. For many, seeing the Northern Lights or Aurora borealis is a once in a lifetime experience and having your own guide is definitely the way to go. Plus it isn’t actually even costing you more, in fact in some cases less! How awesome is that?

Do you have favorite guides or tours which are available in the SmartGuide app?

This is like asking a car collector what his favorite car is… or a chef what his favorite dish is. There is no way of choosing just one! What I mainly love is the options our platform gives our users. Whatever you want to experience, you should be able to find the perfect local expert to help you make your dream a reality. Having said that, I love brewery tours. Visiting brewery is something I love doing when I travel. So getting your personal brewery tour guide is something I love!

What advice would you give to those that are visiting Iceland for the first time?

Well, that’s a tricky one. It mostly depends on how much time you have and what your interests are. Plus of course, at what time of year you are arriving. But be prepared. Have good warm clothes, know that the weather can change in a heartbeat and if you are only going to be doing the most common touristy stuff, it will be expensive. Luckily, there are tools you can use to keep costs down and still have an awesome time, SmartGuide just so happens to be one of them 🙂

List of travel guides in the SmartGuide app.
List of travel guides in the SmartGuide app.

Visit glacier, have a great beer, go snowmobiling and check out ice caves.

I’d also say, if you can, visit the glaciers. That is something truly unique to our little island. Go snowmobiling, check out ice caves and find raw nature.

Plus, the local beer is awesome, and you are in luck during the Christmas season, the best time of year for any beer lover.

I can, of course, go on for hours, but let’s call this good for now, but don’t hesitate to reach out to me or my team if we can be of any assistance.

All the best.
Haukur Jonsson
SmartGuide CEO
+354 6181000