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Collaborative, interactive tourism the Beek way

Collaborative, interactive tourism the Beek way
Beek.co is pushing for closer cooperation between tourism operators, bringing businesses together through its interactive destination guides.

PHOTO: Ivor Earp-Jones

Beek.co founder Ben Knill reckons the big problem with tourism – one of the mainstays of our economy – is that everything is becoming commoditised.

Between online booking systems and aggregation and daily deal sites, he says operators are all being urged to discount in order to bring in new customers.

“People are just trying to make a living cheaper when what they need to be doing is making things better – and making sure people realise why it’s better.”

Beek’s in the tourism business, too, offering interactive guides to hotels, bars, museums and other attractions. Its virtual tours – created using imagery shot specifically for each guide – provide prospective visitors with a more in-depth look at what they can expect; walk-throughs aren’t just restricted to inside a venue, but can extend outside to the streets. In turn, Beek makes money via a membership fee.

British expat Knill, a former photographer, got the original idea in 2009 after landing in New Zealand.

“My sister-in-law was in the tourism industry and she said the big problem with tourism operators was that they don’t work together trying to tell people why they should come to their destination. That got me thinking, can we make something that makes people want to tell a story about a destination?”

Beek started off by getting onside with WellingtonNZ to build its profile and show off its chops. Two and a half years later, Beek’s database includes 80-odd clients like Interislander, Te Papa, and the Matterhorn (and along the way, Knill scored himself a top three spot in the finals of the 2010 Young Tourism Entrepreneur of the Year awards). Heavy hitters including Jasons founder John Sandford and Fiona Luhrs, former chief executive of Qualmark NZ and the Tourism Industry Association have been valuable advisors, Knill says.

To date the company has run solely off revenues plus some TechNZ funding and scaling up is the next challenge. Regional sales and marketing partners could help turbocharge Beek’s fortunes and handing over more control to customers is also a key development. The newest iteration of the technology allows users to log into their accounts, manage and edit their own content through drag-and-drop (for example, doing their own voiceovers), view analytic reports, and link to other guides to cross-promote.

“The thing that we’re going after is the destination brochure,” he says. It’s a tightly-contested market, and there is competition ranging from individual multimedia providers to Google Street View, but Knill’s take is that Beek is more serendipitous, while the likes of Street View are aimed at punters who already know where they’re going or are searching for a particular place.

“Not many people are focused on trying to get a group of operators and partners to work together.”

Knill’s take on destination marketing is all about collaboration. For example, there’s the Wellington Craft Beer Capital initiative to promote bars that offer craft ales. At craftbeercapital.com, punters will find a list of relevant bars, a map pinpointing all their locations, and interactive Beek guides embedded on the page allowing them to explore each bar on their screen.

Beek is also doing more work around conference destinations, tapping into the business travel market and conversely, some student pre-arrival guides for universities. And while it has largely focused on the Wellington area, that’s about to change.

“The South Island’s a really key market. Queenstown is obviously the big one. It just depends really, where the biggest number of operators is, where things are that we can link together and group.”