1. First of all it is a good idea to think about how you will use the system, ie.
a. – are my trips short or long – 1-2 day city breaks or 7-14 day road trips?
b. – do I travel by coach or plane, and also can the group collect the equipment from my office and take it into town?
c. – is my offer for trips around Europe, or also on other continents?
Re: a) the charging affects the decision – either disposable batteries or rechargeable batteries with a charger. The charger is heavier than a standard equipment case and not every guide wants to take a charger for a 10-day trip when flying, whereas when travelling by coach the charger can just stay in the coach the whole time.
For short trips (1/2/3 days) it is enough to charge one battery for the system with up to 20h runtime. This will be lighter to transport.
Re: b) coach – as above – customers often purchase chargers when it is not a problem to take a heavier case.
Flights – for trips of 7/10/14 days involving flights, travel agencies do not usually use rechargeable batteries but rather disposable batteries and a model that runs on two AA batteries that last for up to 30 hours.
Rental for guided tours in the city – the equipment can be kept in the charger from where it is issued to a group.
Re: c) If we want to use the same equipment model in Europe, Asia and America for example, we should consider purchasing a system that runs on a universal frequency, permitted in most countries around the world, ie. 2.4GHz. You may want to ask about a system that can work on 2 or 3 frequencies. The permitted unlicensed frequency in Europe is 863-865MHz. This same frequency is sometimes used in North Africa and the Middle East, as well as in countries that are not strictly regulated in this regard.
2. Tourguide system for tourism – definitions and basic information:
a. Definition – the tourguide system is a set consisting of a transmitter with microphone and receivers with headphones. The guide leads the group using the transmitter and every participant has a receiver. The communication is one direction only, ie. from the transmitter to any number of receivers. There are also 2-way systems available but they are not very popular for guided tours for tourists.
b. Channels – standard tourguide systems have a minimum of 16. The channels are programmed by the manufacturer on a fixed transmission frequency. In case of possible interference on one channel the group can switch to another channel. This means for example that a few guides with a few (or even many) groups can work in the same building or even the same room – each of them on a different channel. Different manufacturers set their channels on different frequencies. The channels also allow, for example, simultaneous interpretation.
c. Charger – device for charging the batteries (AA or lithium-ion) in the receivers and transmitters. Because the receivers and transmitters are equipped with special contact points they can be charged by placing the device in the charger pocket (slot). The charger is usually in the form of a case.
d. Microphone – the microphone is connected to the guide/tour leader’s transmitter. Good systems have a universal 3.5mm jack microphone and headphone socket. There are different types of microphone – lapel (clip on) which can be fastened to a tie or collar, elastic – for the neck or wrist, but the best for guides are professional guides’ head-mounted microphones with limited pick-up range. This microphone only ‘hears’ what the guide says (even when whispering) but does not pick up the background noise.
e. Headphones – the headphones are connected to tourists’ receivers. Headphones for tourism are almost always for one ear. As well as being more comfortable, the second ear should be free for safety reasons. We distinguish between multiple-use and single-use headphones. The former should be non-invasive headphones (not in-ear) for hygiene reasons. 100% hygiene can only be ensured however by disposable headphones.
3. The magic of the word ‘digital’
We have come, sometimes incorrectly, to think that digital is always better. Digital televisions or cameras are better than analogue and so on.
In tourguide technology, using digital transmission has an effect on certain features of specific equipment models, but the usefulness of these features depends on the function the tourguide must fulfil, which may not only be for tourism.
Most importantly however there is no difference in the quality of voice transmission between digital tourguide systems and others.
Digital systems usually have a much shorter range (30-40 metres in line of sight) and require more energy (shorter battery time).
Usually however we can have a higher number of channels on a digital model, which is useful for example in a big museum where there may be 50 or more guides working simultaneously in one place.
4. Don’t be afraid of the tourguide systems
If you can use a phone then you can definitely use the tourguide transmitter. It is very practical to use as it is limited to an ‘on’ switch, volume control, possibly channel change or ‘off’ switch, although most models automatically switch off when there is no transmission from the transmitter.
5. Comfort and safety.
Five years ago the tourguide systems were considered a real luxury in Polish travel agencies. Today they are becoming standard and tourists expect them.
Furthermore, it is also very economical for travel agencies, whereas renting equipment in Paris or Rome can be expensive. Meanwhile, many museums have made it compulsory to use the tourguide systems, and recently some cities in Europe (e.g. in Croatia) have made it compulsory for group tours to use the tourguide system. This is quite understandable from an ecological perspective. Tourists go on a trip to relax but the noise from even one loudly speaking guide in a narrow street, often also using a megaphone, can be intolerable. In popular tourist towns there can often be two or even more tour groups in the same place so it’s not hard to imagine what it can be like… The tourguide system avoids noise and chaos and restores order. The visit becomes discreet, even in churches or other places of worship or respect.
Not only is using the tourguide system convenient for obvious reasons for both the guide and tourists, it is also safe. Often the group leader needs to communicate an important message about organisation and it’s important that everyone can hear it well. If the group is spread out over several dozen metres it is not a problem. Not only will everyone hear what the guide has to say, they also won’t get lost – as long as they are within range and the guide indicates where he/she is – you can feel safe.
6. Buy or rent
Although tourguide systems have become significantly cheaper since they arrived on the Polish market you should still expect to be spending 8,000-10,000zl net for groups of 50 people.
Some smaller travel agencies worry whether the equipment purchased will be fully used the following season. It may then be more beneficial to rent equipment in some cases.
Especially for long-term rentals where the cost of one receiver may only be 60-70gr per day.
In case of a one-off rental of a lot of equipment (e.g. tourguidewynajem.pl or luka-tour.pl) the equipment can be delivered and collected from a given location in Poland.
7. 2-in-1 systems
There is increasing interest in the 2-in-1 systems. These tourguide systems allow the guide to play previously recorded material at appropriate times. Furthermore, the 2-in-1 system can be used by a replacement guide. They can trigger the appropriate recordings remotely at the right time (material recorded in advance by an experienced guide).
As if that wasn’t enough, the latest 2-in-1 systems such as the Okayo OmniGuide have the option to lead a group of people speaking different languages. This is particularly important for tourist attractions visited by groups from different countries, for hop-on-hop-off buses, the popular tourist golf buggies or sightseeing on ships or boats. The person leading the group remotely triggers the recording at the right time and each member of the group hears it in their mother tongue which they have selected in advance. Of course the recordings in different languages must first be written, translated and recorded. These services are available as a package (e.g. at systemtourguide.com).
Tips from experts and experienced tourguide system users
1. Don’t activate a second transmitter on the same channel as the first. There will be interference or no transmission. Most 1-way systems only allow broadcast from one transmitter on one channel.
2. Use equipment that comes with references, avoid lesser known brands. If some model or equipment is used by lots of companies, including big ones – this is probably because it is good.
3. Use branded batteries, preferably industrial series. Don’t buy the cheapest on Allegro.
4. Always have an extra transmitter for the group. If you lose or damage the only transmitter during a trip – the remaining however many receivers will be useless.
5. Buy/rent 1 or 2 receivers more than you need. It rarely happens but sometimes a tourist loses a receiver (which is often found later).
6. Mark your equipment with a sticker showing your logo and website.
7. Using disposable headphones makes organisational issues easier – you don’t have to use disinfectant after every trip or untangle the cables of the multi-use headphones which can be a pain.
8. Some operators give customers a choice of headphones – multi-use for free or disposable for a small charge.
9. Good equipment is durable – sometimes there simply isn’t time to put the receivers in the bag. When checking references of a model, also ask about the durability of the casing.
10. Buy from authorised dealers with appropriate guarantees and service in Poland. The equipment should have CE certification, indicated country of origin, technical specifications and brand of manufacturer visible on the casing.
11. Rent and try a particular model before you buy.
12. At the end of the season it’s a good idea to exchange the lanyards for new clean ones.
13. Have a large company, lots of groups and destinations? Use disposable batteries and headphones. Make the work easier for the tour leader and yourself.
14. Have an even bigger company? Rent equipment long term.
15. Insure your equipment, it doesn’t have to be expensive at all.