Sunday, August 20, 2017

Yangon travel app hits Android

Yangon travel application meant to spotlight the city’s heritage and push wanderers off the beaten path is coming to Android.

The Yangon iDiscovery city walk app will offer four walks that guide visitors around the city. Photo: SuppliedThe Yangon iDiscovery city walk app will offer four walks that guide visitors around the city. Photo: Supplied

Hong Kong-based social enterprise Urban Discovery has had a Yangon-focused iDiscovery city walk application available on iOS since November 2014. Starting in 2013, the company began offering application-based tours across a handful of different locations including Bali, Java and Macau.

Urban Discovery founder Ester van Steekelenburg, an urban planner, said the company was born out of frustration.

“I just see that all the heritage in Asian cities is getting lost. Whether you’re in Beijing or in Bangkok, it doesn’t matter,” she said. “You look out your hotel window and you see the same stuff.”

Urban Discovery attempts to raise awareness of heritage from an economic point of view, which helps it survive, she continued.

For now, Yangon is devoid of many of the world’s biggest commercial franchises, with no place to get a McDonald’s hamburger or Subway sandwich. But global players such as KFC and Krispy Kreme are entering the market – and van Steekelenburg sees the future could bring a Starbucks to every corner.

“Already now we want to highlight those places that are of a different league and that will represent the soul or the spirit of the neighbourhood,” she said.

The Yangon app will offer four walks that guide visitors around downtown, the Secretariat, the Indian Quarter and China town.

The app “basically gives you the experience of getting lost without getting lost”, van Steekelenburg said.

iDiscovery takes aim at a growing tide of travellers heading to Yangon for vacations and business. The majority of Urban Discovery’s customers helm from Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia and the US, said van Steekelenburg.

Tourism in Myanmar has seen explosive growth since the country opened up in 2011. Tourism minister U Htay Aung said that, by the end of December, 4.7 million people will have visited the country this fiscal year, as previously reported by The Myanmar Times. Yearly visitors could surpass 7.5 million by 2020, he said.

Yangon’s architecture is famous for having one foot in the past and one foot in the present, with colonial-era buildings – remnants of the British occupation – playing neighbour to modern office towers.

“There’s a very fine line and that is why we always work with a local partner,” said van Steekelenburg, adding that curation mostly falls to their Myanmar teammate, Yangon Walking Tours. “We provide the framework, the quality control, and the editing, but the local partner is always the one that will come up with the content.”

The Yangon iOS app is free, but downloadable walks cost US$1.99 each. However, a spokesperson for the company said free downloads of Yangon walks will be avilable until the end of the year. Revenues go to conservation efforts and app upkeep, van Steekelenburg said.

“Proceeds from every in-app purchase go to the local partner,” she said.

Income generated from downloads of the India Quarter walk will go to Yangon Walking Tours, the company said, while revenues from the others goes to Yangon Heritage Works. Other partners could link up with Urban Discovery in the future.

Meanwhile, support for the project also came from Myanmar restaurant-runner 57 Below, the company behind Union Bar, Parami Pizza and Gecko, among other Yangon establishments.

They paid “basically to cover our costs to help curate the content”, van Steekelenburg said.

“From now on we don’t get the revenue anymore. It goes to our local partner, and that is an incentive for [them] to keep it up-to-date and start developing new walks.”

In the future, the app could be bilingual with Myanmar language.

The Android version of iDiscovery will be available in two weeks’ time from the Google Play store.