Growing Your Sightseeing Business With GPS Commentary

When we first started AudioConexus back in 2006, the little money we had ran out quickly. We experienced tough times, long days, and even longer sales cycles. People around us wanted to throw in the towel to save us from another round in the ring.

But we didn’t give up! We kept on fighting because we believe in providing better tours and toppling language barriers matters.

Thankfully, we’ve put those harder times behind us. But we still run our company with a startup mentality and maintain our entrepreneurial spirit.

Today, we have customers around the world, delivering tours in over 30 languages, for thousands of people every day. And our customers are growing too because they’re committed to servicing foreign language markets. Companies that make this commitment are putting more bums in seats and they’re making more money.

We know that building any business is hard work. And that’s why we’ve spent a lot of time creating online resources for people like you. From eBooks to best practices and case studies and more, there are lots of articles about commentary systems and how people are using them to sell more tickets.

To learn more about what you need to know about commentary systems, download our free eBook: Multilingual Commentary Systems: What You Need to Know Before You Buy.

What Our Customers Are Saying

We believe any company can reproduce successful results. And you don’t have to be in a big city to make a big impact. One of our customers, located in a smaller city of 120,000, is growing their business by providing sightseeing tours in six languages.

“With AudioConexus, we’ve proven we can serve the needs of foreign language visitors on our boats. We’ve grown our business with more walk-up sales and new repeat business from international tour operators.”

And a recent sightseeing bus customer in Skagway, Alaska, (launched in 2013) is realizing the benefits of providing foreign languages to their passengers. Our customer writes:

“A young Chinese guest who spoke English told us that his elderly mother – who spoke only Mandarin – had tears in her eyes at the end of our tour because ‘it was the very first time on our family’s cruise to Alaska that she has been able to understand what was being said’. The AudioConexus system is an answer to the eternal question of “what does the customer want?”

We’ve heard about positive change from many of our customers with story after story about how providing multilingual tours in creating new business and partnerships. By reaching out to tour and receptive operators and by marketing to foreign language visitors our customers are achieving results. Satisfaction ratings are going up and so is business growth. See how one tour operator partnered with a local museum to create a cultural experience about historical points of interest on their route. Click here for the Blue Boat Case Study.

To help you achieve new growth, we’d love the opportunity to share some of our success stories with you. Call us at (613) 507-1300 or fill in our contact form and we’ll get back to you right away.

(We’d also like to extend our gratitude to our existing clients. You make our work fun and fulfilling!)

Kingston, Ontario: Seriously Smart

The Intelligent Community Forum has announced its 2014 Top7 Intelligent Communities of the Year – and Kingston has made the shortlist! Alongside cities like Hsinchu City and New Taipei City in Taiwan, Columbus and Arlington County in the USA, and Winnipeg and Toronto, Kingston’s leveraging of its educational institutions to build an innovation economy focused on environmental sustainability.

Who is the Intelligent Community Forum?

The Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) is a foundation based in New York City. It studies and promotes the best practices of the world’s Intelligent Communities as they adapt to the demands and seize the opportunities presented by broadband and information and communications technology (ICT). The Intelligent Community Forum has become an international movement that attracts the attention of global leaders, thinkers, and media observers.

What is the significance of Top7 award?

Kingston was chosen as one of the Top7 communities on January 23, 2014 at an event held in Taichung City. The Top7 are the final communities selected from close to 400 submissions in the annual awards program of the ICF. Each community provided a detailed explanation of programs and Initiatives that address the five intelligent community indicators, broadband access, a knowledge based workforce, innovation, digital inclusion and marketing and advocacy plus address this year’s theme, culture.

How is AudioConexus involved?

AudioConexus was selected as a participating company to host a visit from ICF for its contribution to innovation and growth in the Kingston community. We welcomed a visit from Louis Zacharilla, co-founder of the Intelligent Community Forum (ICF). During our time with Mr. Zacharilla, we talked about advanced technology, investments in broadband, talent development, innovation, and how to create lasting prosperity for our community. It was a great experience. Click here to see: Jennifer Lester Mulridge, CKWS Newswatch, Kingston share our story.

 

3 Ways to Find the Right GPS Commentary System

I get really excited about technology“, admits AudioConexus CEO Jonathan Stanley. “But it’s the experience people remember. Technology is an important consideration”, he says. But choosing the right company with the knowledge and expertise to deliver products and creative services with flawless execution is equally important. “Creating compelling content for GPS commentary systems requires outside guidance. That’s where we come in“, he says.

Ultimately, the value of choosing a company that offers reliable commentary systems and engaging content is more tickets sold. Before choosing a company to provide GPS commentary you should be asking these three questions:

1. Does the company understand how to create compelling content?

Some companies write and produce audio tours for their GPS systems. But what do these tours sound like? Are they fun, entertaining and memorable? If you’re listening to audio samples envision yourself as a passenger. Does the audio make you feel better? Or is it limited to dry factual information found in every guidebook?

  • Do you feel entertained?
  • Did you learn something new?
  • Is the audio offer you an immersive experience?

2. Does the company understand how to create a tour architecture?

Think of making a grilled cheese sandwich without the cheese. You’re left with two pieces of toast that don’t stick. The cheese is the middle part of the sandwich that holds everything together. That’s what tour architecture does. It’s the expertise between the commentary system and the content. It’s how, when, where and why audio commentary is delivered at specific spots on your routes. Its’ what makes a seamless passenger experience – entertaining.

  • Does the company have lots of in-field experience in planning and route logistics?
  • What is their approach to providing entertainment?
  • How much research is involved and where?

3. What is the company’s record of reliability?

The most valuable consideration for your short and long-term success is reliability. Some companies contact us, albeit painfully, to tell us they’ve purchased commentary systems that don’t work reliably. To avoid this pitfall yourself, ask to speak with a company’s customers. Dig into old and recent installations and ask lots of questions.

  • Ask to talk to old customers – not just recent ones.
  • Find out how often commentary systems are serviced and why?
  • Learn more about a company’s warranty and service policies.

Audio Guide Bit-rates – Solving Sound Problems

Some of our audio guide clients have been having issues with loading tour commentaries using our software due to the way audio files have been encoded. They’ve been experiencing strange quirks with audio playback. Of course, these issues end up in the AudioConexus Help Desk and the problem is very easy to solve. This is a problem with the “bit-rate” that someone selected for the audio file.

What are Bit-Rates?

Bit-rates are somewhat mysterious things. The best way to think of a Bit-rate is “The amount of data transferred as audio in kb/s”. Bit-rates are normally expressed in kilo-bits per second, or 1000 bits of data per second.

With this definition, the higher the Bit-rate the better! Right? Well, that’s not always the case. In an MP3 format, different bit-rates are good for different things. Here is a break-down according to Wikipedia:

“32 kbit/s – generally acceptable only for speech

96 kbit/s – generally used for speech or low-quality streaming

128 or 160 kbit/s – mid-range bit-rate quality 192 kbit/s – a commonly used high-quality bit-rate

320 kbit/s – highest level supported by MP3 standard”

I’ve seen audio files claiming bit-rates in the 800s, however files claiming this are usually just transmitting a lot of extra “dead air” and not adding to the fidelity of a recording.

How Does Bit-rate Impact Sound Quality?

Typically, I find that you’ll notice a difference in sound quality between 32 and 96 kilobits per second, while 96kb to 128kb is less noticeable. The noticeable difference between 192kb/s and 320kb/s is a hotly debated subject. Some people claim to hear the difference in sound quality while others say there is none. Now that we know a little about Bit-rates themselves, why do some audio files sound great on your computer, but flop, pop, hiss and click on your audio guide device?

This issue is not a problem with the audio guide, but with the Bit-rate being used on the guide. All audio devices come with limitations in terms of what they can process. Most audio devices on the market are programmed and designed to be able to play either 128kb/s or 192kb/s. AudioConexus audio guides can process up to 192kb/s. When an audio file is programmed for a Bit-rate over that limit, a lot of strange things can occur as the device tries to keep up with the amount of information that it is being given.

  • Popping
  • Clicking
  • Decreasing or Increasing audio speed
  • ‘hissing’ sounds
  • Muddy or distorted audio
  • Volume issues
  • Error messages

Encoding Audio Files for Audio Guides

These issues can be resolved by re-working the Audio File to be 192kb/s or less. Most recording software will give this option when “exporting”, “finalizing” or saving the file to an mp3 format. In the long run, checking your sound file format and Bit-rate can save you a lot of hassle and time. Your customers will enjoy your tour with crystal-clear sound reproduction every time.

Memories of a GPS Tour System Installation in Qatar

Most recently, we returned from the coast of the Persian Gulf, after installing multilingual commentary systems and tours on 5 brand-new double decker buses in Doha, Qatar.

As the lead of the installation team, I had the opportunity to travel to Qatar to experience “ad-dawḥa”, or Doha, which translates as “the big tree”, a reference some believe refers to a prominent tree that stood where a fishing village arose, on the eastern coast of the Qatar peninsula.

All I can say is “What a trip!”

My first memory of Qatar will always be looking out my window as the plane was about to land, watching a huge moon settle over the pitch black of the Gulf of Oman. It was a view that I’ll never forget!

After landing in Qatar, one of the many highlights was meeting with the people I had been speaking with for months at Doha Bus. I also met for the first time my installation team, four young men named Ashore, Ahkil, Adresh and Remmy.

Once the installation began, it was clear that I was working with four highly skilled and motivated ex-patriot workers from India and Sri Lanka. It was amazing to work with these guys and the camaraderie we shared among us in such a short time was unmatched.

I began by teaching Ashore, Ahkil, Adresh and Remmy the basics of our system installation. They learned both the theories of our system – and new skills like crimping RJ45 connectors to the ends of CAT5e cables – very quickly. During the installation they were a great source of both local contacts for parts and had the ingenuity to overcome obstacles as they came across them.

Doha Bus Commentary System - AudioConexus

In my off-time in the evenings, I took to wandering the Souqs, old-style Arabian markets that were a stone’s throw away from my hotel. Souq Wakif, the largest of the Souqs, housed several different sections – linens, food, spices, children’s toys, hand-made instruments, restaurants, gold and watches and anything else you can imagine. It was fantastic to get lost in the labyrinthine alleyways full of new sights, smells and sounds.

Souq Watif - Doha Qatar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I wasn’t wandering the Souqs, I was in the workshop, where we faced a big obstacle – inward facing seats with floor to ceiling glass behind them! The seat layout of the bus’ lower level was a challenge. But we had a plan.

We custom designed and fabricated metal posts in Doha, which supported a stainless steel raceway behind the seats – at shoulder level. We installed the posts, avoiding the glass and seat-backs in the lower level. Then we built a free-standing rack system where we mounted audio controllers and digital hubs without interfering with a customer’s comfort in those seats.

The result was installed audio controllers that were accessible to passengers behind the shoulder.

Since there was no other place audio controllers could be mounted, our solution to the problem proved to be the best possible option for the lower level of the bus.

Just like I pride myself in quality craftsmanship during an installation, I found other extraordinary craftsmanship happening in the markets. One evening as we all headed to Souq Wakif to enjoy Ethiopian and Lebanese food – I discovered a craftsman sitting in the street who would take raw plastics, heat them over coals and work with them on a metal plate in front of his seat. He would call out into the street “Tandoori Tandoori!” as he crafted custom bangles in only twenty minutes! Any colour, size or style that you wanted! It was fantastic to watch, and of course we all got some for keepsakes and gifts.

Souq - Doha Qatar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I really enjoyed Qatar for this reason. People had a real sense of pride in what they were creating – and took the time to make something worth keeping. During the final days of the installation in Doha, the installation team worked hard, long hours, and we completed our installation of our GPS Tour Systems on time for Doha Bus’s grand opening.

My thanks go out again to all DohaBus staff and my on-site installation team. I could not have asked for a better team to be undaunted by the challenges we faced and overcame on-site to deliver a great installation. My time in Doha will not be forgotten.

AudioConexus Wins Small Business of the Year Award

AudioConexus recently won the Small Business of the Year award at this year’s annual Annual Gala in Kingston, Ontario.

It was an honour to receive this business achievement award and we’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of our customers around the world for choosing us.

The award was based on several criteria, including:

  • Business Growth, Sales, Profitability and Expansion
  • Job Creation and Employee Relations
  • Customer Service and Quality
  • Innovation and Research and Development
  • Community and Charitable Involvement

Jonathan Stanley, President & CEO of AudioConexus said “This is a big honour for us. I am so proud of our team. We’re truly privileged because we get to work on amazing projects with really great people. We are sincerely thankful for the community’s support. This award is a wonderful surprise.”

Gray Line Worldwide Conference Las Vegas 2013

Bowling - Gray Line Worldwide Conference Las Vegas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We had a great time at the Gray Line Worldwide conference in Las Vegas. With sightseeing operators arriving from all over the world, the level of positive energy was amazing to see. With so many passionate people wanting to make tourism better, you immediately know people care about each other – and care about their respective sightseeing operations.

We’ve been an Allied Partner with Gray Line for several years, and every time we get together with the larger group, it only reaffirms that we are with great, hard working people who want to make a difference.

One of the many highlights of the conference was the opening ceremonies. As a co-sponsor of a bowling tournament, we had a lot of fun bowling to 70′s and 80′s music videos playing on large screens at the end of the lanes.

And while there were several fun and entertaining events during the week, the real purpose of the conference was strategic.

Several important business initiatives were unveiled, and operators spent time focused on the business at hand – to deliver the best possible passenger experiences.

We were a part of several discussions taking place regarding the need to better service foreign language travellers. This need is becoming more urgent with the changing demographics of travel. With the developing economies of China, Russia, Brazil, and India, and other emerging countries, there is a seismic shift happening in the tourism industry.

We are addressing these shifts in the market by working with Gray Line operators to deliver foreign language tours. However, solutions go beyond the application of technology and the creation of great content. It’s about working together for a meaningful cause. To connect a destination’s rich stories to the intersection of people and place. This is where sightseeing tours are delivered as thematic experiences, creating relevance for foreign travellers in fun and entertaining ways.

Being a part of these ongoing discussions at this year’s conference was invigorating. Gray Line operators are committed to providing better tours, adding WOW!, exploration, and cultural experiences that are immersive and memorable. And the transparent approach to addressing the challenges of shifting markets in tourism reminded us that Gray Line Worldwide is more than a great brand, it’s a great family.

Introducing the New Waterproof Hub for Hardwired Commentary Systems

Introducing our new digital hub for multilingual commentary systems – designed for hop on, hop off sightseeing tour operators. With worldwide installations on buses and boats, this new version of the hub was re-designed to be lighter, requiring less labor to install, making it easier for any under the seat work or side-wall mounting. The hubs are made of a high impact, vandal resistant plastic.

The new features of the hub design include:

  • Lighter construction (less $ freight)
  • 100% waterproof
  • Integrated seal for enclosure as well as cable entry points
  • 2-screw assembly (was 4-screw) reducing labor costs
  • Lid clips into base so it stays in place upside down when screwing together
  • High impact polycarbonate/UV resistant

GPS Audio Tours on Lake Lucerne

If you’re looking for something to see in do in Lucerne, Switzerland, we recommend a sightseeing tour on Lake Lucerne.

Multilingual Tours in 11 Languages

“We are pleased to welcome our guests from around the world in eleven languages ​​on the “Sapphire.”

Watch the video on a wonderful way to see Lucerne, Switzerland. Working with our distributor, Audiotours GmbH, the Lake Lucerne Navigation Company launched GPS triggered multilingual tours in ​​German, English, French, Italian, Spanish, Arabic, Japanese, Mandarin, Russian, Hindi and Korean.

The company currently provides one-hour daily tours. The 49 meter yacht, “Sapphire”, significantly enhances the visitor experience, accommodating up to 300 passengers. The design features of the vessel offer customers’ comfort with a Mediterranean ambience.

How to Fix the Audio and Volume Level Problem on Your Bus

I work in the Technical Department. In my daily work with GPS commentary systems, I’m often asked the question “Can I plug cable X into input Y?” Often it’s a simple yes or no answer. The next question I expect is “Well, why not? It’s audio right?”

This is the question that I will be discussing today. Commentary and audio systems, being fundamentally electrical, work on a basic principal: More wattage means more volume.

To break this down, Wattage is a measurement of power. So how do we better understand wattage?

What is Wattage, Voltage and Amperage?

To understand wattage, we need to understand Voltage and Amperage.

Voltage: ”Voltage may represent either a source of energy (electromotive force), or lost, used, or stored energy (potential drop). A voltmeter can be used to measure the voltage (or potential difference) between two points in a system; usually a common reference potential such as the ground of the system is used as one of the points.”

Amperage:In practical terms, the nominal flow of charge per second through a simple circuit will be defined in amperes.”

Wattage is Voltage multiplied by Amperage. When Watts move through on object, they do encounter some resistance (measured in Ohms). This creates heat.

In most vehicle systems it is much easier to control the Voltage of electrical systems than the Amperage, the number of Volts that each “level” of audio uses can be drastically different from each other.

Mismatching these Voltage levels will leave you with a very low volume or a very loud, distorted sound.

Each “Voltage Level” was designed for a reason.

Microphone, Line Level and Speaker Levels are Different

Microphone Level (250mV) signals are taken directly off of a hand-held or head-worn microphone. Due to the sensitivity of these devices, they need to use a very low voltage to function properly.

Line Level (1V to 5V) signals are very common in stereo systems. This is a great way of generating and transferring sound in a very clean, crisp fashion without overheating the hardware.

Speaker Level (high level) audio signals are generated around 12 Volts. These signals are powerful enough to drive one or multiple speakers. Hardware using high level audio signals normally has to be designed with a heat-sink or other way to cool itself.

As long as an appropriate adapter cable is purchased, any one of these three types of signal can integrate with another signal of the same type. Issues begin to show when placing an output source of one type into an incompatible input on a device.

See this chart for how a certain Output level will affect a device that expects to see a different level of input.

Output         Input>>>Microphone LevelLine LevelSpeaker Level
Microphone LevelOKVolume Too LowVolume Extremely Low
Line LevelVolume Too HighOKVolume Too Low
Speaker LevelVolume Extremely HighVolume Too HighOK

 

How to Manage Audio Signals

There are ways to alter a signal to change it into a different signal level. To upgrade a signal, attach an Audio Mixer or a Line Driver. When a signal is too high or low, an Audio Mixer can help dynamically adjust the signal – up or down. A Line Driver can only be used to boost power to a signal.

An Audio Mixer is a device used to manage and mix various audio inputs. These normally come with a host of acceptable inputs, ranging from Microphone, Line Level and Speaker inputs – sometimes even inputs over Bluetooth or other wireless methods! Audio Mixers come in a wide variety of types with many different options that can include multiple input jack types, equalizers, sound filters and even effects. The Audio Mixer is a suite for audio customization and control.

A Line Driver is basically a small amplifier. Hooked up to the signal to be boosted and a small power supply, these are normally a variable boost. For example, a Line Level Line Driver is normally variable between 2V to 6V. These do not come with the bells and whistles of many Audio Mixers available today.

If Volume is too high or if you more than one audio source, for example, a microphone and a commentary system, we recommend an Audio Mixer. This is because the mixer can fix an audio problem by dialling audio up or down (depending on the need). You also have the benefit of several device (audio) inputs.

We would normally recommend a Line Driver for projects that just need a little boost in signal power.

How to Solve Your Audio Source Problems

Here are some examples of different situations in which you would choose a Mixer or Line Driver and why.

Question: I have a tour bus and I want to put audio over the speakers using your commentary system. The problem is my bus stereo only has a MIC in option.

In this case, the commentary system uses a Line Level output. If we connect the TourMaster Lite directly to the audio system, it will come through the speakers as far too loud. Here I would recommend a mixer so we can take the Line Level signal and turn it into an appropriate Microphone level signal.

Question: I have a system on my tour boat, but the volume is a little lower than we really want it. It needs more “oomph”!

Here, we can easily apply a Line Driver to give this audio system the “Oomph” it needs since you are only concerned about getting a little more volume.

Question: On my tour tram we love our audio system, but due to a legislation change, we have to have an available loudspeaker microphone on every vehicle! What can we do?

Here, we would suggest a Mixer. The customer seems to be happy with their audio system, however need to support a new device due to changing laws. Knowing which components you have and which components you need to support the vision of your final audio system is important. In reading this, you’ve taken a step toward understanding how your system needs to function to achieve the best results.