Tuhura launches location-based tourist app

Tourist-orientated mobile website Tuhura serves up cultural and historical video content based on the user's location

Location-based apps are nothing new, but a North Auckland-based start-up is claiming a world first with Tuhura, a tourist-orientated, HTML5-powered mobile website that serves up cultural and historical video content based on the user’s location.

When it launched earlier this month the Tuhura app featured nearly 200 video clips, mostly consisting of newsreel footage from TVNZ, amounting to almost five hours of total viewing time.

The clips, which all relate to geographical locations across the country, can be navigated by region or by user location based on the phone’s GPS position. For example, users in Auckland may be presented with clips on the Americas Cup or the protests at Bastion Point, while visitors in Central Otago can view a series of 20 clips on the Rail Trail.

Tuhura founder Gordon Duncan says he got the idea for the project when he was looking to start a business with global potential that could provide employment for young New Zealanders.

Duncan’s background is in executive recruitment, but he has also been involved in several entrepreneurial and community-based projects. These have included being a partner in a “quite profitable” tourism-related property development in the central North Island, setting up a social housing trust which now owns 18 properties, and chairing the New Zealand board of Greenpeace for six years.

It was while Duncan and his wife were attending a series of overseas meetings for Greenpeace that the concept behind Tuhura began to emerge, he says.

“We went to a few places where it was clear that there was great historic, cultural significance but you just didn’t get any sense of it - where Lenin started the Russian revolution in St Petersburg for example. We were standing on a cobbled square where this guy caught a tram and started a revolution and yet there was nothing there to tell you that.

“That got us thinking that if you could do something with an app that enabled you to see something of that history then that would be a really useful tool to have. Videos on an app seemed to be a good way to do that.”

Duncan says the app’s name “Tuhura” means “to discover” in Maori.

Duncan took the Tuhura idea to various contacts in the tourism industry in late 2010. He says early encouragement was provided by Brent Warren, visitor experience manager at Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED), who told him he needed to strengthen his business case. That suggestion led Duncan to the Icehouse business incubator service which provided a series of mentoring services from early 2011.

“Icehouse helped us to refine the concept,” says Duncan. “We had two different mentors, and we went through a couple of ‘Dragon’s Den’ type of scenarios where we presented our case to business people.”

Around this time Duncan undertook some end-user research at Auckland airport.

“We interviewed over 50 people face to face – including Japanese, Chinese and European speakers. We established that Tuhura could provide something that travelling tourists rated very highly and would be willing to pay for.”

At the beginning of this year Duncan focused on the development of the app and how it would be marketed. He engaged developer Craig Blackwood to design the app, build the tuhura.com website and work out the technical details of how the video content would be hosted. Blackwood has about 30 years IT experience, his career began with programmer and system analysis roles but recently has veered towards web design and mobile app development.

Blackwood says Tuhura, which is available for Apple and Android devices, is not a native app. Instead it is based on HTML5 and uses open source APIs provided by PhoneGap to interface with the various native phone operating systems.

“PhoneGap takes care of a lot, down to the storage and accessing the accelerometer for example,” says Blackwood. “It doesn’t do it all but my take on it is that 90 percent of the apps out there don’t need the granularity of the native operating system.”

On the business side, Duncan is looking to local tourism authorities for advertising and sponsorship. An early taker has been ATEED which has paid a fee for its logo to be displayed on Auckland-related pages. According to Duncan other tourism bodies and an iwi group have also expressed an interest.

Sponsors will also eventually get a share of the revenue proceeds from the app, which is priced at $9.99.

Apart from a few seeding video clips that were donated, Duncan says the bulk of the content on Tuhura has been sourced from TVNZ on a commercial basis.

“We are paying an annual lease so that’s a cost to us but as a business partnership it’s a relationship that has been very positive. They’ve been very helpful in finding the right type of material for us.”

In the future, Duncan plans to source content from community groups and the general public.

“We can’t do a YouTube, allowing anyone on there,” he says. “There will be a vetting procedure. That’s primarily for quality control, but we also don’t want people to be luring tourists to places where they might not necessarily want to go.”

Duncan says one of the big challenges with the project so far has been translating voiceovers for the clips into five different languages apart from English. These are Chinese, Japanese, Korean, German and Te Reo.

“We have gone to people who are migrants from those countries, and who are native speakers,” says Duncan. “More than 15 people are being paid on a contract basis for that work.”

Duncan says that the Maori translation has been the most difficult as pronounciation varies greatly according to region.

“We are getting each iwi in New Zealand to do the translation for its own area,” he says.

Duncan admits that because most Tuhura users will be overseas-based, the Maori translation “isn’t something that stacks up for us commercially for us.” However it is necessary to get buy-in from iwi, who Duncan is expecting to provide a lot of video content in the future.

“It’s really about local people telling local stories,” he says.

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