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dot life Monday, 10 December, 2001, 11:39 GMT
Let your phone be your tour guide
Graphic, BBC
The service can be used with any type of phone
Tourists visiting the great cities of Europe will soon be able to use their mobile phones to get a running commentary on the sights they visit.

Picture this: you are wandering the streets of old London town and find yourself wondering in whose footsteps you may be walking. Jack the Ripper's, perhaps? Or maybe Elizabeth I, Winston Churchill or the Kray twins?

Empire State Building, AP
Included is actuality from the WTC attacks
By making a quick phone call, users of a service called BeyondGuide will soon be able to listen to short narratives about attractions around the capital.

The service is already available in Washington DC and New York City, and the company is in the process of setting up audio guides in London, Rome, Paris and Jerusalem, among others.

The plan is to launch these guides in time for next summer, says Yechiam Halevy, the president of BeyondGuides. Once the service is established in main centres such as London, Mr Halevy hopes to expand into other UK cities and tourist hotspots such as Stonehenge.

How does it work?

The service is much like the audio guides already available in many museums and galleries.

Box, BBC
"And here you are in a..."
It uses Voice XML 2.0 technology, which allows callers to select audio content with voice prompts or the keypad on their phone or handheld computer.

Although the Washington DC service was free when it started, users now pay by the call, or for unlimited use over a set period - for instance, $10 for 48 hours.

It is still free in New York, in part because the service launched just a month ago, but also as a gesture of support for the still-grieving city.

In the long run, Mr Halevy expects most of the company's revenue to come from partnerships with tourism boards, travel agencies and guide book publishers.

Multimedia guide

Not only will the guides relate points of interest about each site, callers will be able to listen to re-enacted historical scenes or original archive material.

Kennedy clan at funeral, AP
Visitors to Washington can listen to JFK's funeral
The commentary can be arranged by attraction, detailing the exploits of the so-called Human Fly, who parachuted off Manhattan's tallest buildings in the late 1990s, or actuality from the World Trade Center attacks; or thematically, offering information on Washington DC's political past or New York's starring role in films.

There are plans to add text and video on demand for those with the technology to access it.

"People don't go on holiday to play with new gadgets, so we plan to deliver information to them on whatever platform they have with them, be it a standard cell phone, a Wap phone or a handheld computer," Mr Halevy says.

To this end, the company has teamed up with URHere, which produces online and wireless maps; and in a separate partnership with, a German developer of multimedia guides for handheld computers.

The deal with also allows BeyondGuide access to content from its major shareholder, Bertelsmann, which owns Fodor's travel guides and National Geographic.

Real people, real stories

As well as linking up with travel content providers, BeyondGuide staff pick the brains of historians and locals with interesting titbits that might normally never make it into the guide books.

Try out the service
Those in the US can call 1-866-334-8433 (Washington DC) or 1-866-400-4867 (New York City)
"In Washington DC, for instance, a construction worker who helped renovate the Washington Monument talks about how they had to co-ordinate with the Secret Service, how they had to work around the president's helicopter taking off and landing," Mr Halevy says.

The aim is to build up content so the guides can be used by tourists and residents alike.

"Those in London for just a few days are going to want material on the main attractions. Then we want to add something that will depth to the knowledge of those in town for longer, and for Londoners themselves."

So next time you head out to explore the city, you may be able to leave that heavy guide book at home.

Weely guide to getting buttoned up

See also:

03 Dec 01 | Science/Nature
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