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As part of the Real World Windows Azure series, we connected with Wafaa Hassan, Governorate Development Consultant at the Egyptian Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT) to find out how the company built the Luxor Mobile Portal on Windows Azure that enables visitors to take virtual tours of historical sites and locate services in Luxor. MCIT works with public entities in Egypt to help introduce new technologies and develop new business models that can be repeated throughout Egyptian society. Read the city of Luxor’s success story here. Read on to find out what he had to say.
Himanshu Kumar Singh: Tell me about tourism in the city of Luxor.
Wafaa Hassan: Luxor is a modern metropolis, the capital of Luxor Governorate, with a population of almost 500,000. Luxor is also the site of the Ancient city of Thebes, a United Nations World Heritage Site, which includes the temple complexes at Karnak and Luxor, the West Bank Necropolis on the Nile River, the Valley of the Kings, and the Valley of the Queens. As many as 12,000 visitors a day come to see what has been called one of the world’s great open air museums.
Tourism is a significant part of the city’s economy, generating E£400 million (US$66 million) a year. We want to encourage people around the world to visit Luxor’s temples, tombs, and other historical treasures, and help visitors get the most out of that experience. To help support the local tourist industry and promote amenities offered in the modern city, Luxor also needs to help visitors find tour guides, hotels, restaurants, entertainment, transportation, and vital services. HKS: Why did you develop a mobile application?
WH: Luxor is an important cultural site and an international travel destination. We need to offer foreign visitors the information they want and help them find the services they need, and still serve the people who live and work in Luxor.
In 2011, Egypt entered a period of sweeping social change, which, while generally positive, reduced tourism in Egypt by almost 75 percent. Observers have noted the role that new technologies, such as that of social media, smartphones, and other mobile devices, played in the country’s transformation. we wanted to harness the power of these technologies to help bring visitors back to Luxor.
HKS: Tell me about the Luxor Mobile Portal.
WH: We began working with Tagipedia, an independent software vendor based in Cairo, to develop the Luxor Mobile Portal. Visitors to Luxor can now use smartphones running the Windows Phone 7 operating system to scan quick response (QR) tags installed at monument sites, visitor centers, and other locations around Luxor. The QR tags activate virtual tours of specific sites, with text, images, sound, and video. When visitors scan a Luxor Mobile Portal QR tag at a temple or other site, they can take the virtual tour of that site and follow links to related monuments. They can also search the portal for historical material or information about guided tours, lodging, dining, bank and ATM locations, and other services available in Luxor, with the ability to instantly connect with the businesses or organizations online or by direct phone call.
HKS: Where does Windows Azure fit into the solution?
WH: We originally supported the Luxor Mobile Portal with a private cloud environment and Windows Azure. Scalability of Windows Azure is a key benefit; seasonal increases and decreases in tourism directly affect demands on application usage, so we quickly decided to manage the Luxor Mobile Portal solely with Windows Azure. The portal uses Windows Azure Blob storage and Windows Azure SQL Database to store and manage data. When a user scans a QR code, Tagipedia technology hosted in Windows Azure identifies the application associated with the code, and either runs the program from within Tagipedia—as with the Luxor Mobile Portal—or allows the user to download the app from another source. For the Luxor Mobile Portal, Tagipedia manages the Windows Azure infrastructure and operates analytics tools to monitor the application, estimate tourism levels or evaluate marketing campaigns, and deliver reports to Luxor. Luxor staff manages content on the portal. If a new bank or other service opens in Luxor, city staff can easily add the new information to the Luxor website and the mobile portal with a single update, which saves significant time.
HKS: How did you launch and promote the solution?
WH: We launched the Luxor Mobile Portal and installed permanent signs with QR tags at monument sites and other locations in Luxor in March 2012. We will also distribute tags with promotional material on airline flights and in magazine advertisements, so from anywhere in the world, users can scan a tag with a Windows Phone 7 device, take a tour of the sites at Luxor, and even begin planning a trip. HKS: How does the mobile app help visitors?
WH: With the Luxor Mobile Portal we can provide visitors to Luxor a much richer experience. It’s like having a tour guide in the palm of your hand. Once visitors are in Luxor, they can use a single mobile application to fully experience some of the most important historical sites on Earth, find their way around Luxor, have a meal, and even make hotel reservations.
HKS: What results have you seen with the Luxor Mobile Portal?
WH: By launching the Luxor Mobile Portal, we have helped support one of the most important aspects of the Luxor economy and enhanced the city’s ability to serve visitors and local businesses in Luxor. The city can also track and analyze its marketing campaigns, so it can more effectively promote its historical sites.
By July 2012, the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities wanted to deploy similar portals for other sites in Egypt, and South Sinai was interested in a portal to promote its beaches, activities, and resorts.
HKS: What’s next?
WH: As the mobile portal expands, Luxor can cross-market with other historical sites, resorts, or regional activities, such as hot-air balloon trips or photo-safaris.
And as the political situation in Egypt stabilizes and tourism increases, we can scale up Windows Azure easily and duplicate the success of the Luxor Mobile Portal in other cities.
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