Julie McNeice is not only the founder and proprietor of MyTourTalk. She is also an entrepreneur and a former director of a Vodafone subsidiary, with responsibility for customer management in Northern Ireland. She then took on a number of consultancies with companies requiring mobile technology and business management expertise.
“I was approached by a company in Barcelona, backed by a team of venture capitalists, who were looking for a way of delivering interesting and useful visitor experiences with new and emerging technologies,” she recalls.
“Whilst doing some market research for their South African division, and considering further career opportunities, I decided that my next move would be either into the renewable energy industry, or this. And I chose this.”
The ‘this’ is one of the most exciting tourism initiatives currently available, combining creatively produced audio files that provide what the company describes as “the perfect travel companion”. Packed with useful information, stories and service providers, all by locality, they are available on iPhones, Androids and by hiring MP3 players from tourism information centres and some National Trust attractions.
“I set about researching guides for Northern Ireland and came across something that hadn’t been done before,” recalls Julie. “Guiding you from one location to the next we take you on a walking or driving tour letting you know what to expect, the best places to eat, drink, sleep and so on.”
After successfully going to market in Northern Ireland, Julie entered her emerging company into a competition funded by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment.
“NITB and DETI identified opportunities for the development of travel apps in the N.I. market and they got together with the Technology Strategy Board and the Small Business Research Institute to procure a project from private enterprise,” explains McNeice. “To do this, NITB and DETI launched the competition.
“There were four winners, two from England and two from Northern Ireland, out of 72 entries. We were fortunate enough to win the largest award. Our submission was to create an iPhone and Android app that would support our content and deliver an amazing visitor experience. The criteria specified solutions that were truly innovative.
“We had to clearly demonstrate that our apps were of world class quality and also that they would increase the dwell time and revenue spend of visitors to Northern Ireland. The challenge was to help plan itineraries [for visitors]. But we also had to deliver exceptional expertise and value for money. So the innovation is not just in the product, but also in the quality.”
The product is distinctive in the way that it connects visitors with local facilities, not just tourist destinations, but also hotels, restaurants, bars, shops and nightlife. Users can see via their app where facilities are in relation to their existing location and can phone straight from their device to book a restaurant table, or enquire about room availability, for example.
By aiming for high volume usage the apps are available for free, with the cost of unlocking a small tour from as little as £1.49, while a full day driving tour costs £3.99. And with the use of in–app purchasing, unlocking the tours is almost instantaneous ensuring no costs for downloading data and the associated roaming charges. ‘Tasters’ or welcomes of the offered guides are available as free samples.
“The business is at a very exciting stage,” says Julie. “Other revenue streams are becoming available, including advertisers who want to promote their services. There are also a number of attractions, locations and agencies, such as those of the Northern Ireland Environment Agency – which sponsor the app and include links out to their website.”
MyTourTalk is now working with a number of district councils and lottery-funded visitor projects to increase visitor numbers and enhance the visitor experience to their facilities. “We have just finished a project for Ballymena Borough Council researching and designing an audio driving tour on the Myths and Legends theme and this is now available from their website” explains Julie.
“We are also currently developing our product entry and marketing strategy in order to quickly replicate our unique model in a number of export markets whilst rolling out the brand globally.”
The MyTourTalk apps have drawn praise from both Alex Attwood, environment minister and enterprise minister Arlene Foster. “These new apps will inform our visitors while they are here and will help them make the most of the many events, attractions and activities we have on offer throughout Northern Ireland,” said Arlene Foster.
With its innovative approach, MyTourTalk is both leading the world and helping to attract the world to Northern Ireland.