The Story of a SA Tourism App that went Global

Updated on 24 February 2017

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The story of a SA tourism app that went global

VoiceMap, a South African tourism app has hit on something of a winning formula in what has become an increasingly crowded audio tourism market – providing high quality immersive audio tours told by those who know them best – locals.

VoiceMap was founded by Iain Manley together with Lauren Edwards in 2014. The venture would later receive funding from Sugar Ventures, a Singapore-based venture fund founded by South African entrepreneur, John Fearon.

The app which is now available in 42 countries, is a result of Manley’s many years of travel married with his experience creating audio tours for open top bus tours and cruise ships.

“I wanted to create a platform that anybody could use to tell location-aware stories in their own voice – to match the immediacy of GPS with the intimacy of a real person’s stories and a real person’s voice,” Manley said in an earlier interview with Bizcommunity.

​What further sets VoiceMap apart is that the audio tours are told through locals’ voices, this was done to help familiarise tourists with their location and to create a sense of being next to the storyteller.

VoiceMap audio walks, cycles, drives or boat rides are an invitation into a community and a way of connecting to both the history, and the people that live there. People are increasingly looking for more authentic and meaningful ways to explore a city and the local perspectives that characterise our audio tours fill that gap,” says Manley.

Anyone is free to submit audio tours from the average man on the street to journalists, novelists and tour guides.

“The storyteller then sets the price of their tour and earns royalties on every download. Ratings and comments help people choose which tours to download,” says Manley.

The audio tours range from $1.99 up to $9.99 and some audio stories like the Theatreland Tour with Ian McKellen and Upper Cableway Station Audio Guide: Tabletop Walking Tour are even free. The audio tours are available on Google Play and the App Store.

An example of the local influence at work is one of the first audio stories to be published on the app and one that remains popular, the colourful and multicultural Bo-Kaap Walking Tour, created by Cape Town native Shereen Habib.

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“I think it’s changed how many people see this “village in the city,” says Manley. “Shereen Habib, a very engaging local storyteller, has compressed an unbelievable amount of knowledge and warmth into this half-hour long walk.”

From homegrown to international

Two years since its launch VoiceMap now enjoys a local and international presence with tours available in many major cities across the globe.

“Our largest markets are the US, the UK and South Africa. To date, we’ve released over 250 audio tours in 82 cities in 42 countries, with new tours published every week,” Manley says.

Other highlights include collaborations with carefully selected companies and acclaimed storytellers.

“A lot of the traction we’ve gained comes down to our partnerships with companies and tourist attractions, including Cape Point Nature Reserve, Table Mountain Cableway and Official London Theatre, whose audio tour of the West End is narrated by Sir Ian McKellen. Most people could listen to his voice all day.”

Besides the English actor, many more global figures have collaborated with VoiceMap.

“We’ve published a sci-fi walk through Edinburgh, an exploration of Beijing’s hutongs [the city’s narrow alleys and streets] by an Economist foreign correspondent, a trio of Berlin tours by a bestselling travel writer who made films there with David Bowie and a walk in Chicago by Bill Ayers, one of the most controversial figures in American politics.”

Going forward, VoiceMap looks to continue growing the range of their historical stories and users.

“We intend to keep growing our community of storytellers worldwide, and to continue improving the tools that make it possible for them to share their stories. Over time, I hope this becomes a living, oral history of the whole world, as the name VoiceMap implies. Of course, this is an enormous task, and we’re just getting started.”

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