27 October 2021 Rosemary Kay

AR Tourism – The Virtual Exporter: Gazooky Studios AR global tourism

5 tips for the first steps in your Export Journey.

I’ve always loved travel – the excitement of landing in new places, discovering new cultures, people, ideas. So when I set up Gazooky Studios, a key ambition was to make it a global venture – what a great excuse for a bit of Tourism – to visit all the places where our geolocated AR stories might be accessed! I was thinking ahead… making stuff I knew would travel!

Gazooky Studios make immersive story-based experiences, combining international storytelling with state of the art XR technology and space tech – story experiences which we geolocate in unexpected places.

So export of our AR stories makes sense – our Global Tourism virtual service crosses borders easily: it’s digital so there’s no getting stuck in the Suez Canal, and the language of images and coding is spoken everywhere.

Making and consuming stories about who we are, where we’ve come from and where we are going, is a universally human activity. And using cutting edge immersive technology to help people communicate with each other, to tell their stories, is something that will expand into any country.

So Gazooky’s plan had been that by January 2021, after a couple of years building a reputation in the UK, we would be ready for AR Tourism experiences – virtual walking boots on, virtual map packed, virtual back-pack on our shoulders – ready to take on Europe!

Then Covid hit.

And so did Brexit.

It seemed that our Export Journey was not going to go as planned.

But we got lucky. In June 21, we were funded by The UK Foreign Office and DIT as part of its Smart Cities Campaign, to develop one of Gazooky’s Augmented Reality storyquest apps as a tourist tool, for a city in Bursa, Turkey: BursAR.

We created an AR story-driven walking tour, in which beautiful 3D AR local heritage objects appear overlaid on reality, accessed on personal devices, to be discovered hidden around the Old Town of Bursa. It promotes the unique heritage and tourist appeal of the city with bespoke 3D assets and a bespoke story.

We couldn’t have done this without our partner on the ground: PWC Turkey. They were our eyes and ears, our translators, our cultural interpreters and mediators. They visited the locations we couldn’t – where our digital stories, our 3D treasure chests, hiding glorious heritage objects, would appear; they negotiated with Bursa Metropolitan Municipality; and they tested the product in situ.

Without them, the first steps of our Export Journey would have faltered. Well, we couldn’t even have begun, given Covid restrictions. Because the entire project was developed in a matter of weeks, right in the middle of lockdown. We had to work remotely, and sadly, couldn’t actually set foot in the lovely city of Bursa. We could only meet the forward-thinking people of the Bursa Metropolitan Municipality, virtually. Fortunately, they were highly engaged, open and keen to make the project work, which helped negotiate the challenges.

So, with all parties working against huge obstacles, and despite the pandemic, the crazily tight deadlines, the language barriers, and the cultural differences, it was a successful project – we delivered on time and the clients were really pleased.

It was a steep mountain to climb though.

So what is the view from the top of the mountain, now we have taken our first steps on the Export Journey?

What did we learn on our first steps as a Virtual Exporter?

1/ Boots on the ground – you need them.

It would have been impossible to deliver this project during the pandemic without our Boots-on-the-Ground Partners PWC Turkey. Without their local knowledge, their understanding of local culture and negotiating skills, without having someone in situ who was on our side, our first steps in Export would have failed.

2/ Support at Home 

When you set out from home, even virtually, you need to know that there’s someone who’s got your back. We were very lucky to have been trusted by the FCDO/DIT. Not only did they fund the demonstrator AR Tourism app, they also acted as a support for us, being there for simple questions, and also to keep the project on track. Without this, you’d have to make sure you had a lawyer who knows the laws and financial regulations of the country you intend to export to – not getting the contracts right for instance could be costly.

Turkey wasn’t originally going to be our first destination, we intended to trade with our nearest neighbours first – and being in the EU (back then) meant we knew we would be aligned. But with Turkey, we needed to have the support of people who knew the differences in legal and financial regulations.

There were contracts to sign, and money changing hands – we were lucky to have FCDO/DIT watching our backs. So having professional support with uncertainties like contracts and finances is a must for companies starting out on the Export Journey.

3/ Expect the Unexpected

Pandemics, earthquakes, changes in regime…. You can’t always predict the future. But they all have a much more significant effect when you are on your Export travels, especially if it’s AR Tourism! So predict as much as you can!

We knew that Covid would affect us, because the project was commissioned during lockdown.

But what we couldn’t foresee was that right at the point of launch, the entire Bursa Metropolitan Municipality would go down with the virus. And then Turkey was plunged into a second serious lockdown, with curfews. So the launch had to be put on hold for a long time.

So be prepared for instability. Build in financial and timeline buffers – things might take much longer than you expect.

And check out the payment cultures in the part of the world you’re travelling to. Businesses that export can often face longer delays getting paid. You might be able to mitigate that with invoice finance. But if your business is finely tuned financially and your cash flow is delicate, maybe wait until you are a bit more robust before setting out.

4/ Expect Cultural difference.

Even if you think you know a country – and I thought I knew Turkey, I’ve been there several times – it’s different when you’re doing business.

It helped that we have a really diverse team – our Technical Director is from the middle east. But we also took advice from our partners – the guys at the FCDO, DTI and PwC Turkey – who gave us tips on how to get the best out of the virtual meetings, for instance –  the Turkish are really positive and prefer the word Yes to the word No!

You will always need a translator, unless it’s an English speaking country and even then multi-lingual products/services might be needed. In fact our BursAR  app needed to work in three languages, English, Turkish and Arabic, for tourism purposes.

Generally, being super-sensitive to local differences will make the journey so much more enjoyable, and productive for all parties.

5/ The right paperwork.

Yes, it’s all digital nowadays, not real paper, but paperwork doesn’t go away just because you are on a journey around the world!

This is where I messed up. I forgot to get a Tax Residency certificate from the UK right at the beginning.

So when it came to payment, there was a hold up of 5 weeks. If we’d been in a financially precarious position this could have been disastrous. But we were robust enough to withstand this delay. And again, because we were dealing with FCDO money, through PwC Turkey, the payments were made quickly and easily at the Turkish end, once I emailed the right documents.

But in other jurisdictions, other parts of the world, there might be lots of cumbersome red tape you don’t expect, so do your homework and get things in place before you set foot into the big wide world of Export….

So that’s our 5 tips for Successful Export Journeying.

Map it out in detail before you take those first steps. Get the right support, at home and abroad. Be sensitive to the culture of where you are going.

Then, be brave, and take your first steps – taking your business idea to the rest of the world….