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Redefining travel experience through technology

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The Government Museum in Bengaluru has an artefact which resembles a bagpipe. There is little marking or explanation for this curiosity. While popular belief is that bagpipe is a Scottish instrument, this “bagpipe” is proof that it was around in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka for over 1,000 years. Meanwhile, some 250 km away, the Chennakeshava temple at Belur, built during the Hoysala period, has thousands of sculptures, each having its own history and importance. A tour guide may be able to tell you about only a few at the most, but what if one is interested in more than the bare facts?

Travelling is about not just creating photographic memories, but also acquiring information first hand about a place. But, this very information is lacking at most tourism destinations. But, a few travel startups in Karnataka are trying to change this with the help of technology. Here, we look at a few innovations which are redefining the travel experience for people.

Pinakin app

This mobile app was a result of a personal travel experience Srikanth Iyer had when he visited north India in 2014. After looking for a guide online and failing to find one, he decided to engage one at various tourism spots in Delhi and Agra. But, guides were expensive and the information they provided was very shallow. Even the electronic travel guides were unsatisfactory. “On the flight back home to Bengaluru, I decided to find a solutions to the problem,” Mr. Iyer said.

And Pinakin app was the outcome, and Madurai Meenakshi temple was the first to be explored in detail. “I did my research, and as Tamil Nadu receives the highest tourist footfall, I decided to start from there. Also, I found that most domestic tourists were pilgrims and there is hardly any help for them,” he said. He elicited the help of local authorities in Madurai and created content which includes mythology, oral stories, history, and architecture of the temple, and offered it in multiple languages: Tamil, English, Kannada and Hindi. “The content is different for different languages. It is contextualised to suit tourists,” he said.

Mr. Iyer went on to participate in a hackathon organised by the Karnataka Tourism Department and got a grant to extend his app to destinations in Karnataka too. His app currently offers audio guide of six sites in Karnataka, including Lalbagh Botanical Garden, Someshwara Swamy temple (Halasuru), Government Museum, Tipu Sultan’s Summer Palace, Mysuru palace, and Belur Chennakeshava temple. “Content for Shravanabelagola, Hampi, Badami, and Aihole will be released soon. We want to cover Karnataka and Tamil Nadu fully before including other States,” Mr. Iyer said.

The free app has seen around 40,000 downloads in one-and-a-half years since launch and is available in Android and IoS platforms.

Exploritage

After finding that there was a dearth of information, especially in heritage sites in Karnataka, Sandeep Desai, who is a frequent traveller, saw this as a startup opportunity and launched his app in April last year.

Starting with Belur, Halebid and Somanathapura, the app now has many locations in Bengaluru as well, including Lalbagh, Tipu’s Summer Palace, Bangalore Fort, and Bangalore Palace. “We have given exhaustive content and the audio guide is in a narrative style. All the content has been well researched and vetted by experts and local authorities,” said Mr. Desai.

Currently, the app audio guide is available only in English. “We are working on upgrading the version to include more languages, Google-based navigation so that people can click on a sub-monument they want to learn about. Also, we might make the app GPS enabled. We are also developing content for tourism places in Mysuru, Aihole, Srirangapatna, Nandi Hills, and Bidar,” Mr. Desai said.

The app is available for free on Android platform and has already seen close to 6,000 downloads.

FlippAR

After the success of the app at Cubbon Park, FlippAR has expanded to include other locations in Bengaluru with the help of a grant from the Tourism Department. Using the same model, where yellow boxes are painted on road near a monument or a statue, the app gives information in video, audio, photo, and text formats when the phone is pointed at the site.

“The app uses image and object detection to give out content about the site. The image is then matched with the database and information is displayed. The app now covers places such as Lalbagh, M.G. Road, and Nandi Hills. Soon, we will be including 20 top locations in the State, following which 100 top locations around the world will be added,” said Vivek Jain, founder, FlippAR.

Stating that the Tourism Department has been very supportive of the initiative, Mr. Jain said there was a definitive need to redefine tourism and there are ample opportunities.

The app, which has seen over 17,000 downloads, is available on Android and IoS platforms and information is available in both English and Kannada.

DigiTour

The most recent player in the tourism startup sector here, DigiTour Technologies, is getting ready to launch its platform this month. Using 360 degree photography, every nook and corner of a tourism site is captured and made into a video, which has numerous audio icons. The content can be streamed on a mobile phone, and depending on what a tourist wants to learn about, one can click on the icons to get the preloaded information.

DigiTour will be launching the platform with the Vijaya Vittala temple in Hampi. Anand Babu C., an IIMB graduate, felt that tourists do not get to know much about the UNESCO heritage site. “I’m from Hagaribommanahalli, which is near Hampi. But, there was so much I didn’t know about the place. It is a similar case with other tourists. I felt that the information deficit can be filled using technology,” said Mr. Babu, who, along with Shivaprakash L. and Shashidhar B., developed the platform.

The company is also placing Wi-Fi hotspots at various locations at the site so that people do not have to depend on Internet connectivity.

As a pilot, Mr. Babu said they were also working with the KSTDC hotel at Hampi to give a virtual reality tour of the place to visitors before they head to the sites.

“The intention is to draw more tourists to Hampi. We want to cover Hampi completely before including other locations in Karnataka,” he said.

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