A glimpse at the future of tourism: M Theory and local iwi launch AR walking tour app

Bastion Point, a park perched on top of a hill overlooking Mission Bay, receives 500,000 visitors annually, but the cultural history of the place remains mostly invisible. A high-tech tourism offering hopes to change this, with local iwi Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei partnering with creative agency M Theory to launch an AR tour app that brings the tales usually told orally to life. 

Bastion Point is positioned above Tāmaki Dr in Mission Bay. It is also known as Michael Joseph Savage memorial park, named after the former first Labour prime minister, with an obelisk on display that commemorates his passing.

But the historically significant spot has far more stories to tell than what its surroundings let on, but are hidden from the naked eye.

The site has a rich cultural history, with the land given to the Crown by Ngāti Whātua iwi as a defence site in the 1800s. It was later the location of a 506-day protest against a proposed Crown sale in 1977 and 1978.

The app created by M Theory is designed to be a walking tour that visitors can bring up on their phone, follow a compass, point at different landmarks and learn about the iwi’s connection to Auckland, what the natural environment has to offer, and the cultural and historical significance of the site for Māori people. 

There are already walking tours of Bastion Point on offer by guides, but the iwi says the app gives people a chance to hear more unique stories, while experiencing a detailed, self-guided tour around Bastion Point that merges technology with the real-life environment.

Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei also counts itself among one of the first iwi in the country to embrace AR technology to share their culture and local stories with visitors.

Business development manager Jamie Cook says the app is available in English, Māori and Mandarin, so anyone who is picking up the Māori language can use it as interactive tool to help their learning.

“Oral traditions are handed down from generation to generation and this knowledge needs to be shared to survive,” Cook says. “We’re exploring new ways to share our stories and create stronger engagement with a wider audience through technology innovation.”

Auckland creative studio M Theory created the AR experience, which features 360 video, audio and AR.

M Theory managing director Samantha Ramlu says working with local iwi to bring their stories to life has been an educative experience.

“We’ve used technology to link the past and the future through the Māori tradition of storytelling, creating an authentic and personal experience for as many visitors as possible,” Ramlu says.

“The potential applications of AR and VR within the tourism sector are almost limitless. With little impact on the land and activated via something we already carry in our pockets – our smartphones – AR in particular offers a way of delivering a sustainable, richly memorable, tourism experience without adding anything to the physical space.”

The initiative demonstrates both a way to innovate in the indigenous tourism sector, as well as a way to promote a natural attraction and its stories sustainably with as low environmental impact as possible. 

The iwi hopes the app, which costs $3.99-$4.49 on the Apple App and Google Play store, will provide an income stream that can contribute to new infrastructure for the site, such as a kiosk.

It has already made its debut on the world stage and was previewed at the 2017 Tuku Iho exhibition in Venice Beach, Los Angeles, as well as at the World Indigenous Tourism Alliance (WINTA) Summit being held in Northland in Autumn 2018.

The app is available for purchase in English, Māori, and Mandarin on both iOS and Android devices.

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