Audio-guided tour technology presentation by John Boulding, VOX Group.

Lead the Way in Travel Tech with John Boulding at Vox Group

Episode Overview

Episode Topic:
In this captivating episode of TravelPreneur, we get into the fascinating world of audio-guided tour technology with John Boulding, CMO of VOX Group. We explore the transformative journey of VOX Group from its inception in 2001, focusing on its evolution from traditional radio-based systems to cutting-edge app-based audio-guided tours. This discussion not only sheds light on the technological advancements in the travel industry but also illustrates how VOX Group has stayed ahead of the curve in delivering immersive and innovative audio-guided experiences to tourists worldwide.

Lessons You’ll Learn:
Listeners will gain invaluable insights into the development, challenges, and future prospects of audio-guided tour technology. You’ll learn about the strategic pivots and innovative approaches VOX Group employed to transition from conventional guiding systems to modern, app-based solutions. The conversation highlights how audio-guided tours have adapted to changing consumer behaviors, especially in the wake of the pandemic, emphasizing the importance of understanding technological trends and consumer expectations in shaping the future of travel and tourism.

About Our Guest:
John Boulding, CMO of VOX Group, brings a wealth of experience and expertise to the table, particularly in the realm of audio-guided tour technology. Under his leadership, VOX Group has pioneered the integration of innovative technologies with traditional touring experiences, creating a new era of travel. His deep understanding of market dynamics and his forward-thinking approach have been pivotal in steering the company through the evolving landscape of the travel industry, ensuring that VOX Group remains at the forefront of delivering top-tier audio-guided experiences.

Topics Covered:
The enlightening conversation covers a wide array of topics related to audio-guided tour technology, including the initial inspiration behind VOX Group’s innovative solutions, the transition from radio-based systems to sophisticated app-based platforms, and the impact of global trends like the pandemic on the travel industry. Discussions delve into how audio-guided tours enhance the tourist experience, the role of AI in creating multilingual and engaging content, and predictions for future trends in technology-driven tourism. We also touch on the challenges of content creation, the significance of user-friendly interfaces, and the strategic importance of staying ahead in the fast-evolving sector of audio-guided tours.

Our Guest: John Boulding- Shaped Audio-Guided Tour Technology

John Boulding is a luminary in the world of travel and tourism, whose expertise has significantly shaped the landscape of audio-guided tour technology. With a career spanning several decades, he has cemented his status as an influential figure in the sector, particularly noted for his role as the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) at VOX Group. His journey in the travel industry is marked by a profound understanding of market trends, consumer behavior, and innovative technology, which he has leveraged to steer VOX Group toward groundbreaking success in providing immersive audio-guided experiences to global tourists.

Boulding’s tenure at VOX Group is highlighted by his strategic foresight and leadership in embracing technological advancements, transitioning the company from traditional radio-based guiding systems to advanced app-based solutions. His vision was instrumental in developing VOX’s pioneering audio-guided tour applications, enhancing the way travelers interact with their surroundings. His ability to anticipate market needs and his commitment to innovation have not only propelled VOX Group’s growth but have also set new standards for the industry, ensuring the company’s offerings remain at the cutting edge of the travel technology sphere.

Beyond his accomplishments at VOX Group, John Boulding’s professional background is a tapestry of leadership roles across various sectors of the travel industry, including significant tenures as CEO of major global tour operators. His extensive experience encompasses strategic planning, brand development, and change management, all underpinned by a passion for delivering exceptional travel experiences. His insights into the technological evolution of the travel sector, coupled with his hands-on approach to leadership, have made him a respected voice in the industry, often sought after as a speaker and thought leader at conferences and seminars focused on the future of travel and tourism. Boulding’s influence extends beyond corporate success, reflecting a deep commitment to enriching the traveler’s journey through innovative solutions and a forward-thinking approach to travel technology.

Episode Transcript

John Boulding: There’s a lot of people, starting with apps. It’s pretty easy to create an app these days, but you’ve got to know who it is you’re targeting and why you’re targeting them. You’ve got to understand the end user. And I think that, again, is such a big strength in VOX. We’ve been around a long time for a technology company since, as I said, 2001. And we have a very big core business sitting underneath all the app stuff.

Megha McSwain:
Hello and welcome back to TravelPreneur, the show that dives into the dynamic world of travel business. I’m your host, Megha McSwain, and today we are thrilled to be joined by John Bolding, CMO of VOX Group. Hello, John, welcome to the show.

John Boulding: Hi, Megha, and hi everyone. Thanks for having me.

Megha McSwain: John’s vast experience in the travel industry and his role in Shaping VOX Group’s innovative journey make him a wonderful person to discuss the intersection of technology and tourism. John, VOX Group has been a pioneer in audio-guided tour technology. Can you tell us about the journey from radio-based systems to now app-based solutions?

John Boulding: Yeah, sure. So VOX’s history began back in 2001 when the founder, a guy called Elliott Tiffany, realized that there was a real opportunity to take some technology that had been used in factories, mainly for factory visits, that sort of thing, which was audio guiding radio devices, and put them into tourism. And we kicked it off really. That was the first that this happened on a global scale. And VOX very quickly grew. We work across tourism and arts and culture and are very successful in this area. We’ve got offices all over the world. But what started to happen back about 10 years ago, 12 years ago, really initially, I guess, was that we realized there was a big demand for guiding, not just group guiding, but also from individuals that were looking to get themselves around. And of course, this is pre-iPhone and smartphones and so on. So the business started to look at how we could take these group audio devices. By putting in chips and memory and so on inside them, turn them into devices that individuals could use that could be programmed to relay arts and culture information commentary initially in venues. The biggest of all was Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome, where we operated the entire tourism program there. So that was pretty big, and it took off fast. As we saw this need for independent guidance, we realized that as smartphones came along, if there was something that we could do there, then that was going to be the real solution. And so that’s how we started progressing here. And our first smartphone app was an app called Pop Guide which came out about nine years ago, I guess, now, and started to become very popular. And we turned it from being just a venue-guiding tool into using mapping sources and so on. We were able to GPS tagging and turn it into a device, an app that could help you guide yourself around a city as well as a venue. And that’s where we came from. So we’ve seen a lot of changes along the way, Megha, of course.

Megha McSwain: Yeah, just hearing you say before iPhones and before smartphones, God, that sounds like forever ago. I mean, it’s hard to even remember a time without them. And you guys have experienced so much. I mean, technology, it’s just changing so fast. How has VOX Group’s approach to technology development, and innovation kept pace with the changing needs of the consumer?

John Boulding: One of the things that we’ve always done is to be an innovator. we’ve always gone against trends and tried to look at what the next opportunity is, and we’ve done that through customer research and understanding what’s happened, and what’s going on in the market. But I have to say, the pandemic was the really big drop-dead moment when things changed on a quantum scale. I think we all understand that the digital age arrived and it arrived because people were forced into lockdown and there was nothing else to do other than use technology to communicate with people. Because we are largely a B2B business, we do have a B2C product as well called VOX City, which is marketed through OTAs and so on, but we’re essentially a B2B company and one of the things that we used to hear from tour operators and other business partners was, “No, no, look, this type of technology is not going to work for me because our customers are too old. They don’t use smartphones and they’re over 50 and they don’t use smartphones.” And of course, the pandemic just transformed that situation. We’ve seen a seismic shift. Gone are the days when grandparents couldn’t use a smartphone. Today they’re using smartphone technology for everything they do. You know this was a catalyst. And of course, because it was the pandemic, we were not busy on the tourism front. So our entire energy, the entire company focus turned to evolving, ready for what we saw as the recovery that was inevitable. In my career, I’ve been through every type of disaster from 9 over 11, of course, but going much back further to the days of the Achille Lauro and Chornobyl and what I’ve seen every disaster and it always comes out, we always come out of them. So VOX took that step to say what lies ahead. We know this is going to be different. We know it’s going to be about independent travelers, and we know that we need to develop our technology, and that’s what we focused on. So it was an amazing period. We evolved our technology for what is now a digitally empowered clientele if you like. And we came out steaming. Our business coming out of the pandemic in 2022 was up 265% in 2019. And if you consider 2019 was the biggest year in tourism ever, that’s pretty good going. I think globally you’re seeing this change. Reports that you see out there in the market from various strong sources like the World Tourism Organization or big companies, we’ve seen a 30% increase in travel app downloads, generally some 2.3 billion downloads globally a year. There’s been a surge of 45% in that across the market, and we’re at 2.65% up. So pretty interesting.

Megha McSwain: It’s excellent. VOX group’s multilingual audio content is a key offering. What’s the process behind developing these engaging and culturally rich audio tours? It must be kind of intensive.

John Boulding: It is. There’s a lot that goes into it and we have different tiers of content creation. We’re a very big content producer. I mean that’s right. We’re technology on one side. We’re content on another side, and we’re a distribution system as well where logistics is a very big part. But basically, there are several key areas. One is expert management, veteran editors, fact-checkers, project managers, that sort of thing that is driving the way is that we work with our content. If we get into the cultural side, which is museums, institutions, galleries, the sort of culture area, we have a whole division that specializes in that, and they work with curators and so on to meticulously and rigorously curate the copy that is built specifically for that purpose. On the tourism side, it’s a higher volume area. And it can be, for example, about facts or points of interest in a city. London has got for us, we have hundreds and hundreds of points of interest in multiple languages. So that then has to be seamlessly integrated into our CMS system and our apps to ensure a frictionless and sort of engaging end-user journey. Then the mastery of managing the language is a truly big thing, you’ve got to be sensitively attuned to the varied cultural landscapes of a global audience. You can imagine someone from India has different priorities and interests than a local domestic audience. In London, let’s say if they were both in London, there would be different and then kids and have a different narrative and it comes down to voice timbre musical ambience to the nuances of demographics that enhance that. We’ve got to enhance their explorative experience, Then there’s cost-effectiveness and so on has to be built-in. And of course, you’re dealing with studios, artists, editors, all sorts of things. So it’s a pretty big operation. But there is another strand which we can touch on as well. We’ve covered there, we’ve covered the high-end cultural arts and culture types of multilingual copy and stories. Then we have the tourism side, if I may just throw it in and it’s on everybody’s lips at the moment, of course, is AI. That is another strand that we have developed now, and it’s not surpassing the other strands. It’s just different. It allows us a much higher volume and flexibility in the way that we create voice. So we’ve got three strands, three layers of what we can do.

Megha McSwain: I was thinking that when you were saying all of the factors that go into this content creation is how AI must be sort of benefiting this process, maybe not. I guess we’ll find out. It’s still evolving.

John Boulding: It’s very much down to what the partner that we’re working with needs. AI is really good now. I mean, I have to say on the voice side and the story-making side, it’s amazing, but it’s not as simple as you think. I’ll give you a good example. If you take maybe there’s a bus company, a little bus company who wants to create some audio content for their tours of a small town somewhere, let’s say a small town, so they could use AI and do it themselves, let’s say. And in fact, that might be what they first think. Well, we can do it ourselves now. But it’s not that easy. First of all, you’ve got to choose the right technology. Then you’ve got to know, you’ve got to understand all those cultural differences and nuances that go into production because you’ve got to manage it, you’ve got to choose your voice, you’ve got to choose the way that that is worked into whatever need that you have, and then you’ve got to find the way of actually transporting what you’ve created into the technology that can deliver it to the customer, into the app, or into the recording system or whatever it is. So it’s a huge management job. And that’s the thing. Small companies can’t dedicate the teams to do that, to train them on it, to take the time to train them for what might only be a one-off production, so they don’t have the resources to allocate to do that, nor the technical skills or the artistic skills to understand how to do this effectively. And that’s where we come in because AI through us is not just recording the voice, it’s the whole package of putting the whole lot together and delivering it as a seamless product that goes through to the end user, who sits there and enjoys an amazing experience as they tour around a city or a venue or whatever it might be.

Megha McSwain: So you’re able to use it, but you still require a lot of management. There’s a lot that goes on in the back end.

John Boulding: Absolutely. We tried various other routes. we said, “Well, let’s link ChatGPT with automated voice through chatGPT again, try that.” But the stuff that comes out is just volume. It’s not properly managed. Right. Then it doesn’t flow through to the, you know to the system of delivery. So it’s a big process and we take care of it all. So it’s, with us, very effective. It’s another great strand to add to the portfolio of products that we can offer.

Megha McSwain: John, your expertise in branding and change management has been instrumental in VOX Group’s success. How did you navigate the recent corporate rebranding and what were some of the key strategies?

John Boulding: I had been for many years. For 20 years, I was the CEO of a major global tour operator and have been in CEO roles in all sorts of companies, including my own. I had my businesses, so I’ve been around a lot, and I was, if you like, on the legacy side of tourism it was coach touring and that and that sort of thing and ground handling and so on, very much dealing with the physical side and people on the ground and so on. So coming across to VOX was a really interesting step for me, because I was going into a company that’s a technology company, and the business is very young, run by very young people. The CEO is a very young guy, an amazing guy, a very clever man. And the whole team, the technology team, is very young actually. What we found was this synergy between us. I had the experience and the knowledge of running a business and expanding a tour operation, and they have all the technical skills. Bringing the two together was a perfect match. Actually. I’ve learned huge amounts about technology. I speak on technology when I do conferences and that sort of thing, and when I came into the business, I could see straight away that what VOX had been brilliant at was a service business and a technology, but they hadn’t turned it around fully into becoming an effective tour operation, because that’s what we’re doing. It’s a B2B, we’re delivering for tour operators, venues, tourism partners, or arts, and culture partners. But I was able to help bridge that gap, and that was the first thing, was knowing that we had to be ahead of the game in technology and you see it all the time. Companies will come up with great ideas and they’ll float them around, and they haven’t got an end goal to get them to market in a certain way at a certain time unless it’s financially led. And that’s with VOX. That’s what we started to do, we changed the way we thought about putting these new products to market, timing the moment of delivery of new stages of technology and timing it for when the market needed it, and being able to go to market and talk about it at the right time and become the thought leader. Let our customers understand that we know what we’re talking about and how we can help them change their business, to help their clients feel captivated, educated, and inspired. That’s what happened. So doing all of that and then bringing the brands together, I’ve done a lot of branding in the past and bringing the brand of VOX together into three clear channels. As I said, we have our arts and culture, which is a brand called Sycamore, based out of Paris. We have VOX, which is core tourism, guiding, and apps, for both groups and individuals. Then we have VOX City, which is our B2C brand. So it was getting those lined up under what was a new brand, which was VOX Group. It’s how we did it. A big change, but it’s helped us in conveying our message to our customers and ultimately to the end user.

Megha McSwain: This episode is brought to you by Travel businesses have unique needs when it comes to credit card processing. From large average ticket sizes and tolerance for higher chargeback ratios to simple integrations with the most popular shopping cart systems, the travel industry specialists at have you covered. Unfortunately, many of the most popular credit card processors initially accept travel businesses, but without warning, freeze their merchant accounts and the thousands of dollars in them. Because these service providers don’t understand or support the unique needs of the travel industry business, don’t get stuck with one of the big guys who will freeze you out without a moment’s notice. Instead, work with the travel industry specialist who will support your business every step of the way. Visit to get a free quote today. What trends do you see shaping the future of the travel and tourism industry, particularly in the area of technology?

John Boulding: Yeah. Well, the smartphones are here to stay. I saw something on TikTok, I think, the other day where someone’s come up with a new device for tourism, which is a device with a swiveling camera, and it’s very simple. It’s a little square and you can point it at things. And they were saying that this is the new this is what will take over. I don’t think it will. I think smartphones are going to just adopt that technology as well and will become ever more powerful. But that is where it’s at. What we’ve got to do in our business is make sure that we’re not trying to move people away from something that they are growing with, and that is key. So it’s a hand-in-hand thing. I think the big smartphone companies, whether it’s Samsung or Apple or whoever will adopt some of the technology that we’re using. You should never be afraid of selling what you’re good at, because nobody can be everything. I know in some parts of the world, in Asia, particularly in China, of course, they have super apps because they can, because people can’t choose from the variety of other technologies that are out there. So super app has to be the way to do it. And that’s a question I often get asked will the super app take over from VOX or does VOX need to be a super app? And I don’t think we do, I don’t. We’ve just got to be very good at what we do and we will lead in that field. There’s a saying that if you’re not the lead dog, the view never changes and I love that one. That’s something that stands out for me. You know we’ve got to lead. We will always be leading because we’re not looking back. We’re not worrying about what’s happening behind us. We’re just going forward. And if other people adopt our technology, “Hey, that’s great. That means we had great technology.”

Megha McSwain: Sure. As a leader in this industry, what advice would you give to individuals aspiring to start their own business in the travel and technology sector?

John Boulding: There’s a lot of people, starting with apps. It’s pretty easy to create an app these days, but you’ve got to know who it is you’re targeting and why you’re targeting them. You’ve got to understand the end user. And I think that, again, is such a big strength in VOX. We’ve been around a long time for a technology company since, as I said, 2001. And we have a very big core business sitting underneath all the app stuff, which is our radio guide business. We have digital radio guides these days. Those two are the latest technology. It’s all very clever technology for group guiding, but we have very big partners in tourism right across the world. We’ve got 5500 business partners, we’ve got 55 offices around the world. We’re handling millions of people, 30 million tourists a year through VOX in one way or another, whether it’s apps or whether it’s guiding equipment and so on. So we know a lot about the business, and the barrier to entry is not so much about whether can you create an app, it’s can you distribute it, can you get can you get to the customer. So if you’re going to start out, you better think very carefully and very cleverly about how you distribute and the real story that you have. How will it make things better for the end users?

Megha McSwain: How does it benefit someone? Does it make sense for that person, for the customer?

John Boulding: Exactly, and make sure you bring in the right people too. I think experience, as has happened at VOX, this combination of real-life experience, technological experience, and creativity is what’s making us successful.

Megha McSwain: What plan does VOX Group have if you can share, and how do you envision continuing to innovate and lead in this space? As fast as everything is changing these days.

John Boulding: One of the real things we’re doing now is growing our internal team. It was a very entrepreneurial business from the very beginning and will always remain. So it’s a company that leads from the top and has had a very good team of senior managers at the C-suite level and the layers below as well, and a good core team. But what we’re doing now is growing our team and growing our skill sets. So we’ve just appointed a new commercial director to drive the global sales side. We’ve appointed new HR, and we’ve appointed new people on the digital side of marketing, which wasn’t the case previously, so that we can better manage our social media, better manage our CRM system. It’s putting all the people in place on a global scale. What we’re also doing is winding in many of the agency relationships that we’ve had around the world, and putting our own offices around the world. We’ve just opened, actually, two years ago, opened up VOX Japan, for example, and that business is growing very fast. We’ve just opened up an Australian business, whereas before we had agents. So we’re controlling our destiny by growing our physical footprint, our team footprint, and the right skills, Megha.

Megha McSwain: The people who make up the business are more important than the actual business itself, like the product itself.

John Boulding: Totally. We are a business as well. One of the other things that we’re all reading about, of course, is the working from home or working in the office question. We have gone back to office working, although because we’ve got a very global team, we’re constantly video conferencing and so on, it’s still a very big part of what we do. We’ve just got a little more flexibility in our approach to the way that we meet with our teams, and I think we’ve just become much more effective. lessons learned again in the pandemic are holding good, but we are a business that is about people, about getting together and solving things through round a table where we can.

Megha McSwain: Well, John, thank you. so much for sharing your insights and experience with us. This has been so interesting to hear about your contributions to VOX Group, and the travel industry as a whole are truly inspiring. Let our listeners know where they can learn more about VOX Group and where they can connect with you.

John Boulding: Yeah, sure. So they can connect with us, of course, through our website. That’s an obvious one, which is There you’ll find the sub-brands, clickable, tappable from there to take you to different brands, the arts and culture, the tourism, and of course the B2C side of VOX City. So that’s a simple way. We’re very big on LinkedIn. We do a lot on LinkedIn. It works for us because we’re largely B2B, and I think that’s another place we can chat. You can find me there, of course, under VOX Group, it’s all VOX Group on LinkedIn so you can find us.

Megha McSwain: Wonderful. Well, thank you so much to our listeners. Please don’t forget to follow and subscribe for more insightful conversations on TravelPreneur. Until next time. You’ve been listening to TravelPreneur by Make sure to subscribe on your favorite podcast listening platform so you never miss a new episode, and we’ll see you again soon on TravelPreneur.