How two South African entrepreneurs an audio travel app


This week’s CNN African Start-Up features two travel writers from the historical Bo-Kaap district of Cape Town, South Africa, an area best known for being incredibly popular with tourists to the city.

Launched in 2014, CEO Iain Manley and Managing Editor, Lauren Edwards saw an opportunity to  build an app based upon their experiences of the area, turning their passion into a business through VoiceMap.

The app provides travellers with audio tours worldwide with immersive and personalised stories to users.

Manley takes African Start-Up for a tour around the Bo-Kaap district and explains what makes VoiceMap stand out.

“GPS audio tours had been around for a while, but they had primarily been a hardware thing. That has changed because now we have GPS audio devices in our pockets. So that says let’s create an app that creates audio tours. The app makes sense for people because if you have ever joined a group tour, you know the guide has been doing the same tour for decades and they are so tired of running through the same thing. They are probably not connected to the space they are in – they are not from the area.”

African Start-Up learns that whilst the evolution of mobile technology made audio tours more accessible, they have also provided a platform for locals to tell more personal stories.

“We realised what was missing was the focus on the unique and interesting perspectives that a local can provide. There are so many stories you don’t have access to as an outsider. With all the technology available to anyone with a smartphone, it just makes sense to open up a platform for people to be able to tell those stories,” says Edwards.

VoiceMap is an example of a digital app that caters to modern travellers, who use their smartphone for all aspects of their trip, from checking-in to airports and hotels to ordering taxis. The segment hears how the evolution of the modern traveller has complemented the evolution of the audio guide.

Manley explains to African Start-Up.

“Travel has changed so much because of mobile devices. This whole infrastructure that was set up to serve travellers is no longer needed, because that infrastructure can exist in the digital sphere. So we are talking to those kinds of travellers. People who have travelled and who have met someone from that place and that person showing them around, telling them the stories from the place and that changing their whole experience of how they see the place.”

African Start-Up learns that the very first VoiceMap tour was focused on Bo-Kaap, before Manley and Edwards even had a company name or way to distribute their product.  Now, since its launch two years ago, VoiceMap is now available in more than 50 major cities around the world, with almost 200 tours available.

Speaking on their expansion, Manley explains the company’s strategy to African Start-Up.

“We grow one city at a time. Initially Cape Town, we built out content here and partnerships here and explored possibilities for how to get users, and how we would create content and the business model was fleshed out. We are slowly taking it to other cities – to Singapore next, London and from there the world. We publish more tours every month and we want to get to a point where our users know there will be something where they go.”

For VoiceMap to continue its expansion, the company relies on partners across the world to grow its user base and presence in major cities. ‘African Start-Up’ learns how Manley and Edwards’s start-up has received funding to take VoiceMap indoors, such as in museums, galleries and even theatres.

Manley describes one of these new areas of expansion to African Start-up.

“One of our most exciting partnerships recently has been with the Society of London Theatre. They represent all the theatres in the West End and wanted a tour that started at their box office at Leicester Square. They thought an audio tour would be an interesting way to do that. They approached Ian McKellen to be the voice and he said yes! That was a huge moment for us.”

Looking at the future of VoiceMap, and the potential of audio guides, Manley speculates to African Start-Up.

“You could have famous travel writers take you from one country to another, one a journey inside a building. You could go from Europe to India to Japan in a single audio tour.”


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