The journey of audio-guiding technology in tourism.

The origins of modern tourism can be found in the church

People have been travelling for social motives as far back as the Greeks and Romans, when they travelled to visit religious sites or festivals, despite the dangers and difficulties. Today, tourism employs 9.9% of the total global workforce and contributes 10.4% of total global GDP. However, more modern-day tourism interestingly has humbler origins, closely associated with the church’s culture of pilgrimage. As far back as 1552 historians recorded that the Italian priest Filippo Neri began what has since become a tradition, for pilgrims to tour the seven Pilgrimage Churches in Rome. Today an estimated 300 to 330 million pilgrims visit the world’s key religious sites every year, and technology is making these visits simpler.

Tourism as a business

Over the following centuries as individuals had increasingly more free time, travel began to become more popular, particularly to those discovering travel for recreation purposes. The demand for tertiary services grew, and in 1841 the first true tour operator was founded in the UK, Thomas Cook.

Tourism began to turn into a business, and in the second half of the twentieth century, with new technology and an economic boom, the spread of cheaper air/land travel and holiday packages, tertiary business services were obliged to start finding new ways to manage these growing numbers of tourists to European destinations.

Religious pilgrimage journeys continued to be popular, and still are today, even as tourists flocked to beaches and sunshine, whereas cultural visits to cities and museums also began attracting a growing number of visitors.

These new visitors needed guidance, and the tour guide and tour director’s role grew conspicuously, often contributing significantly to the success or failure of a tourists’ holiday experience.

New technology helping museums

New technology also played an important role in helping the growing sector of museums and attractions deal with the increase in visitors. The ‘radio-guided audio tour’ was born. According to Wikipedia, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam  pioneered the world’s first museum audio tour in 1952. This new sound technology, while cumbersome and expensive, began reshaping the visitor’s museum experience and was soon part of the response to the crave for cultural revolution during the Sixties. This technology worked using a shortwave radio broadcasting system, in which the amplified audio output of a tape recorder operated as a broadcast station, transmitting commentary via a loop aerial fixed to the ceiling of the gallery. Visitors with a receiver could hear specific commentary when inside the loop.

Smaller museums, pilgrim sites and attractions on the other hand, often could not afford to purchase the audio-guide equipment, or hire specialised guides who were able to offer guided tours in different languages

Many of the bigger museums around the world thrived as technology advanced further with the development of the audio-guide device. This was basically a small cassette player with headphones which visitors carried around their tour, which provided pre-recorded information about the exhibits in various languages. Though generally pleased with their patrons’ responses to these audio tours, museum administrators found that hosting them could be expensive, time consuming and the human touch of a qualified tour guide was missing.

As the numbers of tourists and pilgrims increased, churches and religious sites, were also having to deal with mass tourism and specifically the noise pollution that came with this. The race was on to find a solution to this problem, fortunately, new technology again came up with a solution, the radioguide.

The pioneering Radioguide used in Assisi

The first religious institute to impose guided tours using radio guides in 2001 was the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, using the revolutionary Vox Radioguide. The solution was incredibly simple, innovative and cost effective. Tour guides could communicate with their group efficiently and discretely using a microphone connected to radio device, which was heard clearing by all members of their group through an earphone connected to their small radio device. This simple idea was quickly taken up by the Vatican for use in St. Peter’s Basilca, who annually receive 10 million pilgrims and tourists, and immediately set the standards in the tourism industry for mobile tour groups.

Today’s use of technology

Today, the use of radioguides has become protocol in all religious sites and places of worship, as it ensures tour guides can communicate efficiently with their whole group, while at the same time preserving the sacred quiet character of the religious location.

These radioguides have become a fundamental tool not only for religious tours but are currently used in many travel and tourism sectors, from museums and attractions to congresses and cruises.

Tourists today want more free time to discover places at their own pace. Fortunately, technology is helping them with their requests for discovering places in their own time in a cost-effective manner, with a variety of smartphone apps. These apps however can only enhance and complement, they cannot replace business products or tour directors.

The future

Human interaction is, and always will be, a fundamental aspect and often the highlight of any travelling experience. Technology cannot substitute this, its aim is to speed up and take care of some of the more stressful elements, therefore leaving more space for the enjoyable adventure of discovery. There are a range of digital services available today which can do this, ranging from sophisticated transport mapping itineraries or best photo locations, to recommended eateries or unmissable museum self-guided tours in under an hour.

Vox has always been one step ahead in this journey, from being the first company to provide Assisi and St. Peter’s with their radioguides, to going one step further with their new B2B technology POPGuide, which offers businesses in the travel industry the possibility of offering tailored services, in one app, branded to a company name. They have further tourism management tools in the pipeline and pride themselves on their acknowledged position as “Leading provider of tour guide systems to the travel industry”.

If you are interested in learning how this product can be integrated into your company philosophy, contact Vox for a free consultation.