Are smartphones taking jobs from tour guides?

  • Travel
  • Thursday, 17 Aug 2017

The greatest advantage for audio guides on smartphones is that the single tourist is no longer dependent on a travel group but can instead shape a tour according to individual interests and with greater time flexibility. Photo: dpa/Mascha Brichta

As technology continues to improve and spread, more and more industries will be disrupted and see employees become redundant.

The next group potentially on the chopping block? Tour guides.

Their jobs could be in jeopardy thanks to the increasing popularity of smartphone audio guides – simply a voice in one's ear that relates the story of this historic building or that artwork to the listener.

But can a smartphone audio guide really replace human tour guides?

Audio guides' greatest advantage is that the single tourist is no longer dependent on a travel group but can instead shape a tour according to individual interests and with greater time flexibility.

This concept has been working for museums for a long time already; many of them have rental audio guides that explain the works of art.

"These mostly operate on a kind of kiosk system," says Dieter Brinkmann, lecturer for applied recreational science at Bremen University in Germany.

The visitor dials up on the audio guide the work of art he or she is standing at, and the guide then provides information about it.

smartphones tourist guides
Would you trust this guy?

Outside the museum, there are audio guides for one's own smartphone.

"Often a prescribed route and stations along the way are given," Brinkman says. This model resembles a classic tour with a guide.

With the newest audio guides, the system helps set up an individual tour. Many work using GPS location data. When a tourist walks past a certain important building, the relevant audio info is passed along.

The tour is downloaded and stored on the smartphone once and can always be replayed. "You don't even have to hold the mobile in your hand or need to click it as you go," says Marco Neises, founder of the company Lauschtour in Germany that produces audio guides.

smartphones tourist guides
Hey, no touching!

Lauschtour has different offerings, from Napoleon in Elchingen to the Zugspitz Climate Change Trek, as well as the classical city guide.

As a rule, an audio-guided tour is cheaper than one with a guide, and many tourism associations offer audio tours free of charge.

But the quality can vary greatly with these, as there are no standard specifications; there is as yet no unified platform for audio guides.

As a rule, tourism operators make their apps and guides available on their websites as well as hand out flyers or post signs on-site with their audio guide offers.

smartphones tourist guides
Just watch where you're going.

Such services as Audible have a large selection of guides in their programme. "But the level and the demand have been low so far," press spokesman Jens Kraemer says.

So for now, it appears the classic tour guide is not going extinct.

"Dissemination of knowledge also requires a relationship," insists Markus Mueller-Tenckhoff, chairman of the Association of Berlin City Guides. He himself works as a tour guide and is certain that, through the personal touch, tourists clearly take away a lot more. "We can answer questions and prepare ourselves for a target group," he says.

With an audio guide, you're also missing a sense of togetherness and contact with other travellers. "An audio guide is like a GPS. You are often lonely," Mueller-Tenckhoff says.

Still, that's not enough to stop the spread of audio guides in the tourism sector. New developments focus on boosting interaction with the traveller. For example, a function like Apple's speech software Siri is conceivable. The traveller could ask the guide: "What church am I standing in front of?" and the programme could take a GPS reading of the location and tell the traveller using earphones. – dpa/Julian Hilgers

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