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As travel picks back up, a Philly married couple is rethinking how to make it easier for people to explore places around the globe — starting with their own city.
Regan Fletcher Stephens, a freelance travel writer, and Eric Stephens, a product manager and entrepreneur, have launched a one-of-a-kind publishing platform called Saltete, a marketplace for writers to create and sell niche, digital travel guides. The first one up is about Philadelphia, available for $19.
“My goal — our goal! — is to democratize, and give writers from anywhere, all over the world, a platform to share their expertise, great writing, and best advice,” Fletcher Stephens said.
“In the last nearly two decades working, first as a photo editor and then as a writer, I definitely understand that it’s hard to break into this industry,” she added. “Especially as a person, like me, who couldn’t afford to do an unpaid internship at a magazine in NYC or something similar.”
COVID took a huge bite out of the travel industry, and freelance writers saw opportunities dry up. Now travel is bouncing back, with TSA checkpoint volumes matching or exceeding prepandemic numbers.
The idea to leverage that with a new online platform came to Stephens in the middle of the night, he said. He has experience with this kind of thing. In 2008 he created BeerMenus.com, which allows beer lovers to find their faves nearby, and bar owners to promote their selections
“Eric is always at the forefront of the tech industry,” Fletcher Stephens said.
Saltete is also completely self-funded and independent, according to the couple. Its creation was possible in part because they moved back to Philadelphia from Brooklyn six years ago, Fletcher Stephens said: “We were kind of surprised by how robust and vibrant the tech and creative community is here — it’s amazing.”
Philly is an ideal place to launch this type of business because it offers a good balance of opportunity to quality of life, said Alex Hillman, partner and director of strategy at 10k Independents Project, a collective that “aims to get 10,000 independent workers to the point of sustainability,” per its website.
“I like the parts of Philly’s business culture that are about service and community. It tends to be more about solving problems than ‘changing the world,’” Hillman said.
Optimized for mobile devices and equipped with GPS
To create Saltete — the name is a combination of the words “salt” and “été,” which means “summer” in French — the Stephenses took inspiration from national successes like Substack, and solicited local advice from husband-and-wife design studio Smith & Diction, located in the Bok Building.
Instead of a subscription-based platform, they decided to offer individual travel guides for a one-time purchase. Unlike printed guidebooks or downloadable PDFs, however, Saltete guides are interactive.
Optimized for mobile devices and equipped with GPS, the platform lets you click on any section of a guide to find recommended eateries, parks, and museums. It also shows them on a map, letting you get a better grasp of the distance from one activity to another.
The platform aims to make things easier for writers too, giving them the power to monetize their words.
“Regan and I have had so many conversations over the years about different CMS and publishing tools she’s used, and how frustrating some of them can be,” Stephens said. “It’s been so fun to have a green-field opportunity to create one from scratch … and really think through how we can make the workflows as fun to use as possible.”
Featured on the site right now is “A Guide to Visiting Philadelphia with Kids,” by Fletcher Stephens herself.
Inspired by the Delco native’s experience introducing Philly to her three young daughters, it includes subsections like “What to See and Do” and “Advice From Local Parents We Love” in addition to 160 recommendations from Fletcher Stephens herself.
The guide clues travelers in on everything from little-known green spaces, to how to navigate tourist destinations in Old City, and where to go for a day trip outside the city.
There’s also an itinerary section, with options including “Historic Philly” and “Rittenhouse and the Schuylkill River Trail,” complete with step-by-step activities, sights, and food spots, all with hours of operation and walking distances listed.
The potential of Saltete is endless, the couple said, with writers from around the country and world getting ready to share their experiences and recommendations on the platform.
They’re also just thrilled with the chance to collaborate, Fletcher Stephens added. “I just feel really excited that we get to work together on something that draws on each of our respective expertise and experiences.”