Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way: County Clare (A GPS-Enabled Audio Guide for Motorists by Cultural Roadmapp)
Have you ever driven through an unfamiliar locale and wondered what made its people tick? What was their humour, their history, their art, their stories? How did the passing land- and seascapes impact their lives, and vice versa? Somehow, gluing your eyes to a traditional print guidebook or even a standard travel app—as if “biding time” until arriving at a destination— just didn’t “cut it.” Now imagine driving the world’s great touring routes to the sounds of local culture—with hands on the wheel and all eyes free to take in the gorgeous view. That’s the experience my team at Cultural Roadmapp set off to create by taking the audio guide out of the museum and on the road with our hands-free audio guide for motorists, Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way: County Clare. This GPS-enabled audio guide app for motorists illuminates Clare’s culture and heritage and is the first audio guide app for motorists ever created for the county or the 1500-mile western coastal Wild Atlantic Way driving route. Amplifying the Resonance, Increasing the Impact The app’s fully hands-free functionality allows for a seamless user experience. Unlike the average directory-style or crowdsourced-ratings-type app—which demand the user’s visual attention—Cultural Roadmapp is an audio guide, one specifically designed for motorists. Housed in a downloadable app and triggered by GPS to play automatically over a vehicle’s speakers on approaching a landmark or town, Clare's mini audio 'documentaries' illuminate local culture and heritage. These vignettes are the tour stops that weave together interviews with cultural experts, local heroes, and others; storytelling; world-class music; literary performances; humour; and elegant narration read by esteemed Irish actors. It affords a deep and authentic cultural and historical context to points en route—almost like driving with a posse of local poets, storytellers, historians, and musicians in the back seat! Clare runs about 90 minutes and is best enjoyed leisurely over two days. The downloadable app includes 11 audio tour stops; a scavenger hunt highlighting hidden gems; and curated textual recommendations about what to do and where to go, eat, drink, sleep, shop, listen to music, enjoy some coffee, hike, and explore for each stop. We defined “culture” very broadly, having interviewed cultural experts, local heroes, and garden-variety characters—from Ireland’s last traditional matchmaker and last lighthouse keeper to the sean nos singer writing modern lyrics into an Irish-language song and the restaurateur adding a touch of nouvelle cuisine to a traditional Irish dish. We like to keep the humour unvarnished with no sugarcoating in sight. Indeed, one competition judge noted that Clare “often plays on certain cultural stereotypes about dancing and music in Irish culture before reversing them or revealing something of cultural importance.” We are also proud that we were able to combine academic-quality ethnographic methods (through our ethnographer-ethnomusicologist president)—which elicited wonderful, fascinating, funny, and moving stories from our interview subjects—with the entertainment-world production values that I, a writer and producer, could bring—all combining to elevate the narration script, music performances, and sound effects to a high level. Covid-19 and Self-Drive Road Trips: A Match While Clare launched well before the onset of the current global catastrophe, it has every chance of coming into its own in the context of this global catastrophe. Right now, mid-pandemic, road-trip staycations have exploded, because although travelers want to be socially distanced, lockdown, stress, and travel bans have only redoubled their wanderlust. Road trip planning around the world has shifted into high gear. (A Google search for “road trip” today yields almost 2 billion results [1,970,000,000]; and rest assured, the total was nowhere near that in January 2020!) Travel experts predict the interest in road trips and reluctance to use public transportation (especially airplanes) for long-distance travel will linger long after restrictions are lifted. As noted on the Heritage in Motion website, it’s more important than ever in these isolating times that we engage with society. It’s exciting to us that Clare is, we’d wager, a somewhat rare example of a solution in which social distancing truly coexists with true cultural immersion! The individually felt benefits of this cultural heritage experience, while not technically measurable (except perhaps in return visits and recommendations to friends and family), are priceless and can last a lifetime. For the Irish diaspora, it’s a chance to connect with their ancestral past. But for anyone, as one user told us, “feel a part of the place you’re visiting.” In the sourcing, depth, breadth, and originality of its content; production style and values; format; and user interface, this signature product can redefine both traditional audio tours and road trips—just as the exploding ‘cultural tourist’ demographic clamors for ever-more-experiential travel. Accessibility This ability to provide access actually comes by way of creating something new as a way to share the old. Cultural memories must be shared and collectively remembered to stay alive. So we craft something new around the raw audio interviews, transforming them into immersive experiences through added music (often performed for us live), narration by Irish actors, and sound effects. We then mix, master, digitize, and disseminate the audio product, making the content available in an entertaining style and a format that broad audiences can enjoy and relate to. This allows users to experience culture in a way they have heretofore not done and to access stories and performances that might well otherwise have disappeared. While the coronavirus won’t magically disappear forever (it will merely be managed), when the travel bans are lifted, we hope people from all over the world will come to Clare’s Wild Atlantic Way coast, avail themselves of our product, and return home enriched and enchanted. Preserving Cultural Heritage In a funny twist, preserving local culture and heritage is a byproduct of this new content and the access and enjoyment it can provide. This model will help to document and preserve cultures and traditions that are slowly slipping away. By the act of listening, enjoying, traveling, visiting, and experiencing, the listener/tourist helps keep the cultural heritage alive. One other byproduct of the process is the scores of hours of oral history embedded in the raw audio recordings that form the basis of our audio guide content. We are honored that the Irish Traditional Music Archive, a preeminent national repository in Dublin, is holding a place for our audio recordings for Clare and, indeed, for the 150+ hours of additional interviews we’ve already recorded for all seven counties along with Wild Atlantic Way. These new cultural heritage assets along with promptu performances will help keep hallowed traditions and memories alive for future generations. This preservation, in turn, will allow the culture and heritage to remain accessible to countless other visitors in the future. Preservation Breeds Promotion We have something that tourism departments desperately need right now: captivating stories and content that give the world a first or fresh look at a country or region and, through that experience, drawing visitors to those lands and helping tourism industries—and cultural tourism—recover. To produce Clare, we received a modicum of financial support from the Irish quasi-government agency Shannon Heritage and, for the full Wild Atlantic Way series, in-kind support from Ireland’s tourism board (Failte Ireland). We are currently developing a strategy to engage tourism authorities in other countries. Sustainability Our audio-guided road trips will have the added benefit of being sustainable. Travel experts predict that instead of spending the majority of a travel trip in dense cities, the reverse will be true, with travelers spending most of their holidays exploring off-the-beaten path communities and locales. Our tours help to redistribute the tourist footprint as they track routes BETWEEN cities or towns—helping to disperse tourist traffic (and dollars) toward the less-served hospitality-related businesses and hidden gems and encouraging visitors to explore just a little further, look a little deeper, and have even more memorable experiences as a result. This low-impact model actually keeps the hidden gems mostly hidden, while bringing much-needed tourism dollars into the communities typically overlooked by large tour buses and groups. A case in point: The owner of the Rathbaun Hotel in the Irish town of Lisdoonvarna told Cultural Roadmapp’s president that since the inception of the Wild Atlantic Way, visitors have increasingly bypassed the town, as it’s just off the driving route and the direct line from the Cliffs of Moher to Galway. As a result, he said, the town has suffered economically while nearby Doolin has been overrun and buckling under the strain of too many tourists. The hotelier strongly commended the nature and functionality of our app in directing tourists to spend time in the less-trafficked spots like Lisdoon. We have also received expressions of gratitude and praise from hospitality and tourism proprietors throughout Clare for including their areas in the app, and for requesting their input. We Think the Future Is Bright As for Cultural Roadmapp, our aspirations are grand. From Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way to Italy’s Amalfi Coast and Germany’s Fairy Tale Route, we hope to see our product being the application of choice for self-drive tourists. Clare won Ireland's Digital Media Award (Silver, Best Use of Mobile, 2018) and the Interpretive Media Award (Digital Media, 2018) from the US National Association for Interpretation. Cultural Roadmapp won the Travel & Hospitality Award 2020 for 'Best Cultural Tour Operator - Ireland'. You can listen to Clare at https://testflight.apple.com/join/s4nfdty9.

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