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Penny Street’s Narrowcasters takes audio tour tapes to a whole new level – much like an unforgettable book, say tourists who have signed on for them. The company now offers its services at 18 sites in India

Audio tours are a funny business. The headset guides help tourists navigate museums and galleries around the world.

Penny Street is the first to admit she’s listened to some that are “just simply dreadful and bored me rigid!”

But she also knows the secret to making a good one. Forget your dreary history teacher droning on – tourists say Penny’s tours have moved them to tears.

It’s a talent that has helped her business Narrowcasters dominant the obscure market in India and Australia.

“It’s a bit like any creative media,” she said. “Like watching movies or reading a book, some are unforgettable and others are just dreary or boring.”

Penny started her business supplying audio guides to museums in Sydney.

She got the idea to enter the Indian market after visiting the Prince of Wales Museum in Mumbai — now named the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya – while on a business trip with her husband.

“I knew it was an emerging market, and that in ‘92 Manmohan Singh had tried to liberalise its economy somewhat and was trying to shake off the inertia.

“So it was a good time to be looking at the Indian market I thought – particularly in the museum sector, because you can often gauge the development of a country by the state of their museums,” she said.

Narrowcasters opened an office in India in 2001 and started supplying tours for tourist sites around the country. Of course, being India they weren’t all museums, as Penny explained, “they could be walks around parks or they could be temples, they could be all sorts of places”.

Today Narrowcasters provide tour tapes for about 18 sites in India, including Red Fort and the National Museum in Delhi. And in turn, the subcontinent accounts for roughly 40 per cent of Narrowcasters’ global revenue; it also has a presence in the markets of New Zealand, Cambodia and Thailand.

To crack the Indian market it helped that Penny had previously met the director of the Prince of Wales Museum. “It gave me a very useful valuable introduction into that museum,” she noted. “So I was lucky in that regard.”

But at the end of the day, Penny believes it’s the content of the audio tour that wins people over. “That’s where a lot of experience comes in, and a lot of skill to be frank,” she said.

“The way a script is written must not compete with the visual,” she explained. “When you’re looking at some beautiful object, doesn’t matter where it is, whether it’s in a museum or outside in a park or whatever, your eye is trained on that object and all your senses are directed to interpret that object,” she said.

“If someone thinks you’re trying to tell them something which is either jarring with what they’re looking at, or is competing with what they’re looking at, they’re very quickly going to turn off. That’s a very delicate skill, which a very well experienced audio tour scriptwriter knows instantly,” she said.

The most satisfying part for Penny is having built Narrowcasters reputation for making audio tours that don’t just inform, but have the power to move people. “When you’ve established a reputation for delivering outstanding content and wonderful, wonderful stories then it’s very satisfying,” she said.

And she’s never been more optimistic about the market for tourism in India. “Like everything else in India, it has really boomed over the last 10 years,” she said. And the changes are noticeable on many levels.

“When I first started flying into India it was very difficult to get domestic flights to certain parts of India without having to leave at 5am or some other dreadful hour,” Penny said, pointing out that there are now a bevy of competing airlines jetting across the country for travellers to choose from.

And, “with so much information available on the internet, and so many guide books, so many travel books available, it’s quite easy to get around,” she said.

No tourists are taking advantage of this more than Indians living in India themselves, a trend Narrowcasters is well aware of.

“Obviously with a growing middle class, you’re going to get more people interested in what your own country is offering,” Penny said. “In the past we’ve tended to major on foreign visitors in India but nowadays we see more and more domestic travellers to our sites, which is very, very exciting.”

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