Hello Kyoto: What’s new in version 11 of the VoiceMap app

VoiceMap crossed a few milestones in 2023: 1,000 tours in March, for instance, then 500,000 app installs and 30,000 tour ratings a few months later. In total, our community of independent travellers and curious locals spent over 100,000 hours doing VoiceMap tours last year, and after all that time out and about, exploring, you had feedback – bug reports, sometimes, but also feature requests and helpful suggestions. 

Version 11 of the VoiceMap app, which we’ve dubbed Kyoto, is a response to some of that feedback. It includes: 

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Upcoming Webinar: How a Berlin-based tour operator published 6 audio guides in 12 weeks

Join VoiceMap’s second webinar for a conversation with tour operator Jo Eckardt, who started A Friend in Berlin after she moved back to Germany from New York twenty years ago. 

Jo taught German at NYU, and also worked for the UN, but Berlin is her favourite city, and while she showed everybody around herself in the early days, her company now has a team of guides offering tours in eleven languages. Jo is also a psychoanalyst, an author and – of course – a VoiceMap publisher

The first of Jo’s tours was published in 2015. She didn’t publish another one until October 2022, then she published six of them in twelve weeks – and at last count, she was on eleven. Jo was inspired by how much easier it had become, and all the ways in which VoiceMap’s tools and processes had improved over the years. But she was also really clever about using the structure of a tour to her advantage. 

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Webinar Recording: Following Prince through Minneapolis with Frank Bures

VoiceMap held its first webinar in March. Our Head of Content, Gary Morris, spoke to Frank Bures about how he produced his third VoiceMap tour, In the Footsteps of Prince. Frank has published six VoiceMap tours and is the author of The Geography of Madness, which Newsweek called one of the best travel books of the decade.

Some highlights from the webinar:

(4:35) The beginnings of the Footsteps of Prince tour

(17:30) The working relationship between the publisher and the editor

(19:30) The audio recording process

(23:05) Mapping techniques and considerations

(2:10) Frank on creating his first VoiceMap tour

(27:35) The importance of storytelling when creating a tour

(31:49) Frank’s top advice for new tour publishers

(32:42) A live reading of Frank’s favourite passage from the tour.

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Announcing VoiceMap Athens: What’s new in version 10 of the best* audio tour app

VoiceMap is at its best when you’re immersed in new surroundings, with your screen off, because the serendipity of GPS playback can seem like magic. But version 10, codenamed Athens**, is about what you’re doing when your screen is on, especially if you’re looking at your tour’s map.

Improvements in VoiceMap Athens include:

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Audio Tour Case Study | Building your own white-labelled app vs. publishing with VoiceMap

For award-winning ad man Tom Darbyshire, white-labelling an audio tour app seemed like the perfect way to find an audience for his New York City walking tours. “It sounds cool to have your own app,” he says, “but I didn’t anticipate the headaches”.

Marketing was turning into a fulltime job. Tom also found GPS playback unreliable. At the beginning of 2022, he decided to try moving one of his tours over to VoiceMap, where he publishes as TellBetter. GPS playback worked well. Tom became “a GPS convert” and moved the rest of his tours across. When he crunched the numbers at the end of 2022, he realised VoiceMap was responsible for 83% of annual sales.

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How is ChatGPT going to change self-guided tours?

I often get asked if I’m worried about ChatGPT and tools like it. Last week, at Arival and ITB in Berlin, this was the first question from most people I met. 

Then, when I got home, this article by Selene Brophy was published. I thought back to a VoiceMap tour I had just done in West Kreuzberg, passing through Viktoriapark. It was nearly perfect, with a surprising route and so much more than just facts. The publisher, Beata, was obviously overflowing with anecdotes and observations about this corner of Berlin, but she was sharing an infectious passion for the city too.  

Could ChatGPT simulate Beata? I opened it up on the day GPT-4 became available and asked it. 

Continue reading “How is ChatGPT going to change self-guided tours?” »

Upcoming Webinar: Following Prince through Minneapolis with Frank Bures

Join VoiceMap’s first webinar for a conversation with Frank Bures, the author of four VoiceMap tours as well as The Geography of Madness, which Newsweek called one of the best travel books of the decade. 

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1,000 VoiceMap tours – and other rewards for craft, consistency and putting things in context

We reached an important milestone last Friday: 1,000 published tours. Friday was also our ninth birthday, coincidentally – but also usefully, because it reminded us that this took some doing. 

Our tours now cover some 30,000 locations in well over 300 destinations, and our scripts add up to a fraction under 5.5 million words. If you started listening to all of our audio now, beginning with a Chao Phraya ferry ride published in June 2014, you’d still be listening halfway through March, more than 600 hours later. 

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Audio Tour Case Study | Using self-guided tours to monetise your podcast or blog’s fanbase

Annie Sargent’s travel podcast has provided her with the perfect audience for a series of VoiceMap audio tours in Paris. In 2022, her sales were up by six times on 2021, and half of her listeners buy more than one of her five self-guided tours. 

Annie Sargent knows two things for certain about people who become fans of her travel podcast, Join Us in France: they enjoy audio, and they like France. They also really like her, it turns out, and with those three ingredients, she has a ready-made market for VoiceMap tours. 

This is one reason why Annie sells almost as many tours through her own website as she does through VoiceMap’s website and apps. It’s also why she sells more than one tour to most of her listeners. It helps that Annie’s tours are excellent, of course, with over 750 five-star ratings, and she has become one of VoiceMap’s most successful publishers, selling thousands of dollars’ worth of tours in 2022. 

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Audio Tour Case Study | Solving distribution challenges to sell more tours

Once Lynn Momboisse got her head around how to produce and distribute high quality audio tours, sales of her complementary walking and driving tours in California started seeing exponential growth

Lynn Momboisse is one of VoiceMap’s best-selling publishers. Sales of her walking and driving tours (18 and counting) in Carmel-by-the-Sea, Lake Tahoe, Sacramento and other parts of California have been steadily on the rise since her first tour, Carmel-by-the-Sea: Fairy Tale Houses Walking Tour, went live in mid-2019. Lynn earned five times more from tour sales in 2020 than in 2019, and her earnings quadrupled from 2020 to 2021. This trend broadly follows growth across VoiceMap’s platform, which is expected to continue.

Lynn’s success comes down to a few key ingredients:

  • She creates a wide variety of tours.
  • They aren’t in the Londons or New Yorks of the world, but in smaller cities or towns where her tours are among the only high quality tours on offer, whether guided or self-guided, and this helps her dominate the market.
  • Lynn offers walking and driving tours, most of which logically lead on from one another, giving visitors an opportunity to purchase two or more tours during their stay.
  • The tours are well-researched, full of personality, and of a high quality overall.
  • She has developed an efficient process for creating enjoyable tours that work seamlessly every time.
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10,000 tour ratings and other recent milestones

VoiceMap reached a few milestones this month: we published our 800th tour, then we extended our reach to 60 countries with our first walk in Belgium, and yesterday we reached a total of 10,000 ratings across all the tours on the platform.

It took us a full 39 months to get to 2,000 ratings, and 20 more to get to 4,000. Reaching 6,000 took another year, and we reached 8,000 nine months after that, over a period that included the lockdowns of April, May and June last year. The final increment, bringing us to 10,000, took just four months. That’s basically ten times faster than the slow climb to our first 2,000 ratings.

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Audio Tour Case Study | Dividing Lines: A History of Segregation in Kansas City

The Dividing Lines tour explores how segregation shaped Kansas City and its urban landscape over the course of a 90-minute drive through its centre. It was produced for the Johnson County Library by Christopher Cook and Nathaniel Bozarth, filmmakers and podcasters who used interview recordings as well as quotes from Tanner Colby’s book Some of My Best Friends are Black to add to an in-person bus tour that was already offered by library staff. 

The tour takes education out of the library and turns a drive through Kansas City into an immersive opportunity to learn. It was VoiceMap’s most popular tour in 2020.

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Celebrate Robert Louis Stevenson Day with self-guided and virtual tours of Edinburgh

This Friday is the 170th birthday of Robert Louis Stevenson. In Edinburgh, the anniversary has been celebrated with events throughout the city since 2011, but with level three restrictions in place, RLS Day 2020 has chosen to commemorate the legendary Scottish author online. This includes a crisscrossing of the globe with readings from his work by 19 people in 15 locations, starting with his childhood in Edinburgh, as well as two newly released audio tours. The tours can be used virtually, at home, or on a self-guided, socially distanced walk in the footsteps of the young Stevenson, before he left the city of his birth at the age of 27, never to return.

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This Heritage Day, enjoy a free, fun and socially distanced tour of Cape Town

It has been a challenging year for South Africans and we all deserve a little downtime this Heritage Day. The good news is that, while we look forward to welcoming back international guests when borders open in October, Capetonians won’t need to compete with crowds of tourists to enjoy their favourite local attractions this year. And for those still cautious of venturing out under the cloud of COVID-19, VoiceMap’s Heritage Day promotion means that they can enjoy a free tour of one of the Mother City’s top attractions, in a fun, safe and socially distanced way.

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Sound design resources for audio tours

It’s not just a great story that makes a tour. Tasteful sound design and the right choice of music can go a long way to helping bring your tour to life and further immerse your listener in the journey you’re taking them on.

But knowing where to find the right royalty-free sound or track is not easy if you don’t know where to look. So we’ve put together a list of resources where you can find great sounding, useable and best of all, free material.

Once you have the sounds or music you want, you can email them over to your editor. Our audio editors will edit and mix in the sounds for you.

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The six best virtual tours of Paris to take right now

More than any other city, Paris is an infatuation. It’s even a syndrome for some, who find themselves suffering from anxiety and hallucinations – or even physically sick – when the Paris they arrive in is not the romanticised City of Lights they have come to expect. The City of Lights has reached us from afar, through the imaginations of artists, writers and filmmakers. It’s picture perfect – but only from afar, because Paris is also big, dirty and prosaic like any other metropolis, and it has over 25 million visitors per year queueing outside its landmark attractions.

What Paris do you visit, then, when you take a virtual tour? That’s all anybody can do for now, after all – even Parisians, who are under a strict lockdown to slow the spread of COVID-19. (It’s scheduled to end halfway through May.) The answer depends on what you mean by “virtual tour”. Do books count? What about Zoom video calls with an experienced guide who is stuck in their apartment, just like you, even if theirs is in Paris? Or does the virtual in “virtual tour” refer to a high-tech simulation of reality, like it does in virtual reality? According to one definition, “something virtual is effective in essence but not in name,” which makes sense, but leaves the door open to virtually anything. (You’ll have to forgive me for that.)

I decided to start with the widest range of options I could uncover online, ready for me to do right now, then I rated the best of them using three criteria that you could just as easily apply to non-virtual tours:

  1. How immersive is it?
  2. How interactive is it?
  3. How in-depth is it?

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Armchair audio tours

It can feel a little bit like magic when VoiceMap tours point out a revealing detail at exactly the right moment, to show you something you’d normally walk by without a sideways glance. But it’s actually a spell that has been carefully produced by our editors, who help every single one of our publishers with the ins and outs of automatic GPS playback.

That’s why we’re surprised by our data, which suggests that for a surprising number of VoiceMap’s listeners, automatic playback doesn’t matter at all. In fact, over the last 12 months, about 15% of them have started tours more than 100 kilometres from their starting points. And about a quarter have used the VoiceMap app’s Continuous Play feature, which is designed for listeners who might be at home washing the dishes, or on their way to work – or on an aeroplane at the start of a trip.

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Eleven of the best travel apps for your trip to Berlin

You might know Berlin as the birthplace of European street art. Or perhaps you’re more familiar with it being described as the startup capital of Europe. But the two actually go hand-in-hand because of something you wouldn’t normally call an asset: empty space.

At the end of the Cold War in 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell and the two sides of the city were reunified at the same time as East and West Germany, the capital had a lot of vacant buildings. (It still does.) Rents were low, especially in the east, and artists, musicians and immigrants moved in, establishing new cultural hubs.

Then, in 1990, the East Side Gallery was established, opening up over a kilometre of the Berlin Wall to street artists. It was still mostly blank on one side because to reach it from East Berlin you had to cross the so-called “death strip”, which was patrolled by dogs and booby-trapped with over 55,000 landmines.

Startups like low rent too, of course, but they also make it easier for Berliners to take risks and fail – or to live on a low, startup salary. This has encouraged a generation of entrepreneurs and today a new company is founded in the capital every 20 minutes.

What does all of this have to do with travel apps? In a city where local startup Soundcloud has office space next door to Twitter on a campus that “straddles” the Berlin Wall, you’d expect technology to offer something better than a guide book. And it does. There are apps that help you find vegan restaurants and street art by Banksy. You can listen to daring escape stories using a dedicated Berlin Wall app, take an audio tour with us, using VoiceMap, or find a more adventurous way to get from A to B using Komoot. Continue reading “Eleven of the best travel apps for your trip to Berlin” »

Newsletter, March 2018: A marriage proposal via VoiceMap, free tours about (re)making two legendary ports, Boston’s Medal of Honor recipients, and more

There is so much in a single human voice. This simple fact jumps out at me with every new VoiceMap we publish, in each of the 46 countries where you can now plug in headphones, hit start, and explore.

Take, for example, some of our free audio tours, sponsored by tourism boards, attractions, community organisations, and others – along with one exception, which is also free, but was published privately by design.

The private audio tour was disguised as something public – an ordinary tour, for anyone – but it was actually made for a single, unsuspecting listener, and when a new voice cut in unexpectedly halfway through it, she recognised the voice instantly. It directed her through a magnificent garden to a bench, where the voice was joined by its owner, asking if the listener would, perhaps, be his wife. Continue reading “Newsletter, March 2018: A marriage proposal via VoiceMap, free tours about (re)making two legendary ports, Boston’s Medal of Honor recipients, and more” »

Gentrification in Woodstock & Salt River: Answers from the City

Below are questions, which were sent to the City of Cape Town as part of research for the A Community in Crisis: Gentrification in Woodstock and Salt River  tour. The responses were too long to include in the audio tour in full, so we are posting them here for those who would like further details. There’s also a gentrification reading list here.  

In the City of Cape Town’s 2008 social housing progress report, it states that at least three sites in Woodstock and Salt River – Pickwick Road, Dillon Lane, and the Salt River Market – will be developed into social housing by 2011. Why haven’t they been completed yet?

Councillor Benedicta van Minnen, the City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Human Settlements:

This has been an extremely complicated situation, primarily, as it involves the well-being of existing residents. As you will appreciate, a significant challenge in the precinct is how to deal with the low income, and indigent, households that are presently living in the area, usually in an informal manner. In some instances these households have lived in the area for many years. However, the existence of the informal housing is delaying the possible development of formal, affordable rental opportunities on some sites. This situation is, however, not only happening in this precinct but in other parts of the City’s Transport-Oriented Development corridors, such as in the metro south-east corridor, where the intent is to encourage medium and high density affordable rental developments.

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