Tourism Radio is a unique radio station concept operating in Namibia and South Africa, providing tourists with on-the-spot information and alerts of interesting places whenever they are driving. The gadget helps tourists in getting to places of leisure and scenery as they drive in hired or their own cars; it also furnishes drivers with information on danger spots to avert road accidents. Anthony Odeo of The African Executive talks to Tourism Radio South Africa’s Mark Allewell together with his Namibia’s counterpart, J.C. Nel and filed this story.
Anthony: This is a unique concept, what is it all about?
Mark Allewell: Imagine you are a self driving tourist in a foreign country and you are lucky enough to have the country’s top tour guides, as your personal travel companions, who give you all the history, local anecdotes, information on special activities and specific details of every attraction within your vehicle’s immediate location. Tourism Radio broadcasts information relevant to the geographical location of the vehicle. Mixed with local interest shows covering topics such as Namibian music, cuisine, people, history, activities, fauna & flora, any questions you would like to ask a tour guide. We also share road safety and security tips with you. As it is both entertaining and informative, we call it infotainment. The station works through the Global Positioning System (GPS), which relays signals to a radio unit installed under the car’s bonnet to provide real-time information about locations and their features.
Anthony: How has the concept been received in South Africa?
Mark Allewell: It has an amazing buzz on everyone. The tourists are upbeat. Most car hire companies have had all their cars installed with the device. Tour guides appreciate the concept as an immense complement.
Anthony: How does 'Tourism Radio Namibia' relate to Tourism Radio South Africa (SA)?
J.C. Nel: Namibia’s is totally independent; we only share the business idea. We were the first to launch the business in Africa and have so far covered the entire country. In SA, the system has only covered high tourism regions.
Anthony: How did you put the project into place (capital, technical expertise)?
J.C. Nel: It is a long story – in brief, we sourced the initial software from SA. We drove some 30,000 kilometers over several weeks by car collecting all the relevant GPS coordinates. This was followed by an intensive research and development of all necessary set up. I spent countless sleepless nights gathering and consolidating information gathered over the years in my private library. I also put my local knowledge and professional scriptwriting skills in preparing the scripts before proofreading and recording in studio. Our technical advisers have ensured the recording adheres to technical parameters enabling the software inside the unit to function to its full potential. Afterwards, we did attesting and adjustment to the entire system before launching.
Anthony: Mike talks of a 'buzz' like response to tourism radio in S. Africa, how would you describe the impact of your entry to Namibia's market?
J.C. Nel: Unbelievable! – The system not only gives directions, its ability to handle road safety makes its efficiency matchless. We have various programs that inform visitors on how to handle a vehicle on a gravel road, in normal and rainy conditions.
Anthony: Is the project viable? Does it promise a better future?
J.C. Nel: Definitely yes, if we can only save one life in 10 years through road safety, it is viable. As the product develops, we have enabled previously neglected areas to surface by promoting them to tourists over the radio unit. Our systems record all travel information regarding the movements of tourists, which can accurately be analysed upon return. This information is made available to authorities to improve infrastructure or new places of interest accurately. We see our venture as a major contributor to tourist’s safety and tourist development in all countries.
Anthony: Both Mike and You are planning to expand to other parts of the world, what attracts you to Kenya particularly?
J.C. Nel: Tourist information is key to any tourism destination in the world – Kenya is one of the oldest destinations for tourists from Europe and other parts of the world. The country also has the highest concentration of famous Game Parks in Africa like the Great Maasai Mara.
Anthony: How long have you been into the business and what volume of clientele has accessed your service to date?
J.C. Nel: We have about nine months in business. Our service has served about 10,000 people so far, but our budget for 2008 - 2009 is meant to help us achieve 480,000 people within the period.
Anthony: From observation, where is the cream of your market, the rural or urban areas and why?
J.C. Nel: No specific regions – our system covers both rural and urban areas. We have equally distributed visits for the entire country.
Anthony: In a layman's understanding, if two different vehicles pass by a restaurant in a ten-minute interval, isn't it likely that the latest car occupants will receive the info about the restaurant already 'covered' by ten minutes and so may not get the complete info as the tourist in the first car?
J.C Nel:No, every vehicle has its' own transmitter totally independent from the other. This means that the occupants receive transmissions as they are relayed to their unit.
Anthony: What challenges are you facing in the venture?
J.C. Nel: Having carried out a thorough research in advance, most of the challenges were foreseen and measures taken to allay them. However, language has become a major challenge since we did all our scripts in English. We are currently working on scripts in German, French and other foreign languages.
Anthony: Any message to upcoming African entrepreneurs?
J.C Nel:We are waiting to welcome them - we need them - there is a very big market to be captured and it can and will be done. Entrepreneurs are winners.
By Antony Odeo
Mr. Odeo is an African Executive Staff Writer
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