Started in 2011, AudioCompass is a startup that offers audio and multimedia tour design and development, technology support and site operations to tourist destinations. It offers audio guides for Agra Fort, Taj Mahal, Bombay Star Home Tour, Mumbai Heritage Tour (Footsteps of the Raj), Khajuraho, Hyderabad’s Salar Jung museum and Sanchi among others. In our interaction with Gautam Shewakramani, Founder & CEO, AudioCompass, speaks about their products & services, pricing, and product response, among others.
Products & Services
Medianama: What are the products & services that you offer?
Shewakramani: We are more of a product company and less of a services company. We develop high quality content for different destinations like monuments and museums, among others and deliver it at these destinations for tourists to use them. For instance, there is plenty of information available about South Bombay on the Internet but there isn’t anything when you are physically visiting the places. Right now the best way to get such on-location information is by hiring a tour guide which would cost at least Rs 1000.
Our products offers similar content on the go at much lower cost through mobile phones. Each audio guide is currently available as a paid app on Google Play Store and iTunes App Store. Alternatively, one can also rent an AudioCompass device at the ticket counter of the respective destinations. The English and foreign language guides are available for a rental fee of Rs 100 (plus taxes) while the Indian language guides are available for a rental fee of Rs 60 (plus taxes). After the completion of the tour, our staff collects the equipment back.
Medianama: Why did you decide to do audio services? Why would travelers use your audio services?
Shewakramani: We focused on audio because our products are designed to be used while you are on the move. We believe that people cannot visit a place and also engage with videos or images on their phones at the same time. Through audio, you can minimize the user interactions to actions like selecting a monument or a layer within the app. We don’t help you plan trips but we give you relevant information while you are there.
We believe there are couple of reasons why travelers use our service. First is the quality of audio guides. Our content is studio quality. What you get out of an audio tour is different from a book or human tour guide. Our content is studio produced. We are able to recreate histories and times that have gone by. If you are visiting Taj Mahal, our tour guide recreates the entire event of how Shah Jahan met Mumtaz met.
Secondly, it costs one-tenth of the price you would pay for tour guide. Tour guides charge at least Rs 900 at the Taj Mahal and at least Rs 1000 at South Bombay and Bollywood star tours cost at least Rs 2000 whereas we charge a flat rate of Rs 100 per download. People can share their device with others. It is their choice. Third reason is that it is self-guided for people to take the tour at their own pace, time and language of their choice. Our Taj Mahal audio guides are available in up to 9 languages including English, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, French, Spanish, German and Italian. However, depending on the site we prioritize the languages. For instance, our Agra fort guide is not available in Telugu and Tamil.
Medianama: What is Culture Calls? How does it work?
Shewakramani: Cultural Calls is a facility that provides high quality destination content on any phone. It doesn’t have to be a smart phone. You need to dial a number. Each tour in each city has a different access number. Or they could also use our central 5 digit short code that we are launching in partnership with mobile operators. When you call, it will prompt you to choose a destination and make the payment. After paying, customers can use the service for the next four hours. The proposed price of the service is Rs. 20 for 4 hours for toll free access, which should be sufficient for a visit to 1 cultural site and 2 in close proximity. This is subject to change based on inputs from our telecom operator partners. We have not launched this service yet all over the country.
Medianama: What is site management? What will it include?
Shewakramani: There is two aspects to our services, one is B2C which includes apps and Cultural Calls. The other is B2B where we work with monuments & museums. Site management would be us managing everything for our B2B clients. Going forward, we want to focus on B2C essentially, not B2B.
Medianama: How many users do you have now?
Shewakramani: We have operational for two years and have served over 100,000 customers in the last two years.
Medianama: Who do you target for your services? Is it only for foreign tourists?
Shewakramani: 60-70% of our customer base is foreigners. When we started, our foreigners base was about 90%. We realise that there is education is happening over time. In the long term, we want to target the Indian customers where Indian- foreign ratio is 80-20. Today, 80% of the tourists in India are Indians. So I would like to capture this 80% of Indian tourists.
Medianama: How have people responded to your services?
Shewakramani: The response has been great. We have iterated the product a lot. When you travel to India as a foreigner, you are looking over your shoulder out of fear of being ripped off. The most important piece of feedback we have got is that our foreign customers have gotten empowered. They understand the history and engage with these monuments in their own pace. This has really encouraged us. As for Indian tourists, they are essentially neglected, guides run after foreigners. Now Indians have a way of having affordable access to our monuments and culture.
Medianama: What surprised you about travelers consuming information during travel?
Shewakramani: With Indian travelers, we were surprised that they are extremely interested in learning about Indian culture and history. Most Indian tourists come up to our counter, they listen to our guides and take it. All the Indian sales are walk-ins.
With foreigners, we were surprised about their curiosity about the deeper aspects of Indian history. We layer our content. What we found is that people are interested in knowing about specific styles of architecture and listen to the specific layer about it. It seems that the excitement about India for foreigners has come and gone. Now, they want to go deeper. Most of our foreign customers are not first time visitors but people who are visiting India again.
Medianama: How do you track what they are looking for?
Shewakramani: Our on-site equipment have the provision to run statistics on the most popular points of visit. We also give this information to the monument sites as well. As far as the app goes, we have not built in too many tracking technology in it yet but we wish to do it. We would build it with privacy settings so it will be up to the users to decide about sharing their information.
Medianama: Your website says that you help with business models for some services, what does that mean?
Shewakramani: We do some B2B work for smaller monuments and museums. We also tie up with large monuments like Taj Mahal where we are 100% partners for audio guides. So we are also running the operations for their audio guides. In some sites, it is not viable for us to manage the operations so we only create the content and don’t manage it. As for the pricing, in some sites, the fee is included in the ticket while in some places they rent our equipment separately. Some places don’t charge for entry or audio guide. Depending on the site, our model also changes.
Medianama: How did you choose these specific destinations?
Shewakramani: It is a business decision taken based on number of visitors, frequency of visitors, personal interest, among others. We obviously have started with the biggest destinations to promote tourism because that’s how we essentially operate.
Medianama: How do you create the content for your services?
Shewakramani: We decide on a site and put together a creative brief, then work with in-house script writer and researchers who do the research and create a full fledged script with the decided approach. After iterations of the script, we get voices to record, then do a soundscape and sound effects recreating an era in the studio. The end product is audio which we package into different distribution channels. Our philosophy is we don’t compete with the monuments but complement them. Our product is not the tour, it helps the tour.