Museums in a smart city – all tourist attractions in one application

September 2015, a Touring Exhibition Meeting in Istanbul. The meeting place of East and West was selected to host the conference of professionals from the entertainment and museum sector to foster exhibition exchange worldwide. This was the first time I have heard about izi.TRAVEL, a free storytelling platform for museums, cultural heritage sites and other organisations involved in tourism. Being a frequent traveller, I also became a frequent user of the izi.TRAVEL app. Free thematic GPS-navigated audio tours helped to explore new places in my own pace.
Alex Tourski, the founder and the think-tank behind izi.TRAVEL, has an ambitious goal to connect the world via stories, reaching the scale of Wikipedia. Three years later, I caught up with him to speak about how izi.TRAVEL can help museums in attracting more visitors and to engage with them in a meaningful way.
How will audio tours on izi.TRAVEL help museums to attract visitors?
The idea behind the platform is the integration of a large number of participants. A local network of audio tours might begin from one or two museums, joined by other touristic sites, universities, storytellers and companies from the public & private sector. As a result, there are linked stories about a city and its museums, parks, archaeological sites, combined in one application. All content providers help each other to promote, as the visitor gets all their stories in one app.

In this network, the tours can be promoted even further, and for free: when tours saturation reaches a certain level, mobile operators can sell their prepaid SIM cards to tourists with an audio tour; hotels can suggest audio tours of nearby attractions; the network of buses, trams, boats and other means of transport can offer hop-on-hop-off tours in the city with the app. In Moscow, for instance, there are already a lot of successful audio tours provided by a network of trams. Thus, in a tram, a tourist sees a poster with the QR-code to the application, downloads it and comes to a local museum. There is a clear synergy: museums can develop stories, but cannot promote well. Tourist businesses can promote but they need the stories to attract clients. Alex calls it the “concept of a storytelling smart city”, in which all participants join forces in promotion of their tours.

By joining forces in a local network, the promotional power is huge. According to Alex, stand-alone museum apps rarely reach more than 1000 downloads (with some exceptions of very famous institutions), no matter if they have virtual & augmented reality or not. izi.TRAVEL has already over 3 million downloads. When Uber, Google Assistant, Siri, TESLA, Airbnb join the project – there could be several hundred million downloads. 

The biggest advantage of creating an audio tour on izi.TRAVEL for a museum is the huge promotional power of the platform and its partners. The technology behind it is neither revolutionary nor very fancy, but the major force behind it is the network of participants.

How a museum can start its audio tour
In short, a museum manager has to go on the website of izi.TRAVEL, log in and publish an audio guide. If all audio files, photo, video and texts are already existing, it won’t take longer than an hour. The detailed description guides through each step of the creation of an audio tour.
In the HELP section of izi.TRAVEL, there is also useful advice about how to set up a museum’s WiFi for an audio guide use or how to guide visitors through a museum with photo navigation.  
izi.TRAVEL also organises free-of-charge trainings on storytelling for museums, where participants learn about creating engaging audio tours. Alex is convinced there is no need to invest in new technology, as there are already many free platforms: Youtube for publishing videos, Tweeter for sharing short messages, Facebook for exchanging thoughts and izi.TRAVEL for spreading stories. Museums shall rather focus on writing stories and on the quality of their content.
Creating a professional content requires resources. This poses a certain challenge to museums. Normally, the funding can be provided by sponsors, governmental organisations, grants or other sources. But sometimes it is a personal investment of time & energy of museum staff. According to Alex, joint consortiums of city museums, tourist authorities and local universities have more chances to get funded than museums alone. 
Which are the most successful audio tours for museums on izi.TRAVEL?
The most successful tours change all the time. All content providers can access online statistics, filtering the data. For instance, in the month of May, the most popular tour was 1968 – Returning to Latin Neighbourhood, and the most popular museum was The Pushkin State Art Museum.

izi.TRAVEL online statistics
To be successful, a tour has not just only to contain interesting and engaging stories, but the museum has also to effectively promote it. There are some necessary basics, like placing posters in the museum space, featuring download links on a museum website and sharing the information in social media. izi.TRAVEL provides a check-list on promotion, ensuring that content providers do not miss big and small steps. But nothing works better than the museum staff which was trained to use the izi.TRAVEL app: the cashiers, guards, volunteers love to engage visitors into the guided tours once they tried it themselves.
Museums can also extend their audio tours outside the museum walls by adding thematic stops in the city. Tretyakov Gallery, for example, has created a tour where visitors – while guided from one building to another – find out about the history of other old buildings on the way. These additional stops outside can help tourists to get in the museum.
10 years ago, Alex Tourski provided guidance to drivers in Russia (he introduced the first GPS-based navigation maps in Russia in 2006 for BMW, DC, TomTom and many other navi systems). Let’s hope he is equally successful in guiding tourists to museums around the world…
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