(CNN)Lost your travel guidebook? Can’t be bothered to carry one around on your vacation? No need to fret, a popular celebrity could be at hand to show you around.
At least that’s the aim of travel writers, Iain Manley and Lauren Edwards. The South African pair have built VoiceMap, a cellphone application that offers personalized audio tours of cities around the world.
In some cases, the guide could be a local journalist or knowledgeable resident. Gandalf himself, Sir Ian Mckellen, has even created a tour for London’s theater district.
“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,” explained company CEO and co-founder Manley.
“They are probably not connected to the space they are in — they are not from the area,” Manley adds.
As such, VoiceMap aims to eek out the interesting perspectives that only a local can provide.
Since it launched out of Cape Town in 2014, the service has grown to include over 300 tours and is available in cities across South America, Europe, Asia and the Caribbean.
“There are so many stories you don’t have access to as an insider,” Manley continues. “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.”
Digitally-savvy travellers already use their smartphone to do most travel-related tasks, from booking flights and hotels to ordering taxis, so it made sense to target this demographic, explains VoiceMap’s Manley.
And although the product is now global, its development has been very much a product of South Africa.
“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,” said Manley.
From street to theater
The next stage for VoiceMap is to increase the number of these partnerships in other major cities around the world.
If famous voices like McKellen can be secured to do similar tours in other locations, all the better, Manley and Edwards believe. “That was a huge moment for us,” Manley said of working with the Lord of the Rings actor.
The start up has also recently received funding to start doing tours indoors, too, including museums, galleries and shopping malls.
Well-visited places such as the British Museum, for example, could be viewed in numerous ways with different audio tours, said Manley.
“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.”