Your Business: Smartphone app gets tourists on track

By Gill South

Yuri Volna. Photo / Steven McNicholl
Yuri Volna. Photo / Steven McNicholl

For many serial entrepreneurs, one business idea can often lead to their next one.

Yuri Volna, a Russian immigrant living in New Zealand for the past 10 years, sold his GPS rental business RentGPSNZ more than a year ago, then immediately turned around and started developing his new business, itravelnz, a free-to-download iPhone and Android travel information application for New Zealand tourists.

A basic version of itravelnz has been available from the Apple App Store since early last year.

The latest platform, with significant development, was released in early November and since then there have been more than 6500 combined downloads for both Android and Apple smartphones.

More beta testing has been done and itravelnz launched "proper" last month, supported by a web-based portal, www.itravelnz.com.

Volna is marketing the application as "New Zealand in your pocket".

He has set out to provide smart-phone-carrying travellers with instant, up-to-date local information and interactive maps on New Zealand, available in more than 30 languages.

It integrates with social media, Skype and email and also with popular navigation applications, such as TomTom and MetroView.

Crucially, Volna and his team have developed and tested a new online/offline capability, which last week received approval from the Apple App Store.

Roaming charges and WiFi access for travellers in remote parts of New Zealand can make smartphone applications less accessible, but with this latest development, itravelnz tourists will be able to store any research and map images they have found while looking online.

Itravelnz is targeted at three types of tourists, domestic, foreign and new migrants, who will find a comprehensive and interactive travel guide very useful, Volna says.

"Printed guides are often out-of-date whereas smartphone information is easy to change and update frequently," he says. "We'd like to be the number one travel app in New Zealand."

Volna, an aeronautical engineer, who came to New Zealand via Australia 10 years ago with his wife Natalia, is using developers from all around the world to put the necessary technology together.

He has hired experts from New Zealand, Ukraine, Brazil and Australia.

"You don't need to be a programmer to develop the product," he says.

"We know how the product should look, you organise people to do it [the development]."

The entrepreneur is working with Regional Tourism Organisations (RTOs) and i-sites to get the best local information as well as employing travel writers.

"The RTOs have a lot of quality information, i-sites are very important, they are the frontier, they deal with the travellers," Volna says. "Nelson RTO has been fantastic, coming to us, giving us recommendations.

"With the tools we have, RTOs can promote the region so people stay longer and see what else they can do."

Itravelnz encourages travellers to discover New Zealand's beaches, parks, walks, volcanoes, lighthouses, history and culture.

Reliable mapping and information encourages tourists off the beaten track and helps local businesses in lesser known destinations.

Businesses listed on the site can also provide deals and coupons.

Itravelnz also incorporates social media and reviews so travellers can recommend their favourite things to do to friends and fellow travellers.

"The main idea behind this comes from understanding what is the natural way to connect businesses with travellers," Volna says.

The business model for the free app is the revenue from business listings.

"We are not listing everyone and anyone," he says. "At the moment, they are finding us, we have not run a sales campaign yet. We have been focusing on content."

Active marketing to tourism businesses will start next month.

- NZ Herald

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