In September, the tourism ministry signed an agreement with Audio Compass (India) Pvt. Ltd, a travel app provider, and technology company Genesys International Corp. Ltd for its much-touted QR project that was scheduled to start later that month but now will be launched before the end of this year, according to two ministry officials.

First proposed in early 2013, and widely reported, the ministry’s plan was to use quick response (QR) codes at tourist destinations across India to provide information.

QR codes are two-dimensional barcodes that can store large amounts of information. These codes, which can be read using apps on smartphones and dedicated QR reading devices, can link directly to text, websites, emails and phone numbers.

“One of the biggest challenges for travellers is the last mile of travel, that is, when they are past planning and booking stage and are actually on ground travelling,” said Gautam Shewakramani, founder and chief executive, Audio Compass. “We are not doing a great job of providing tourist information, so they have to rely on expensive and unreliable sources like unofficial touts. This will make tourists access information while travelling in a hassle-free manner.” Audio Compass already provides audio guides at the Taj Mahal, Agra Fort, Khajuraho, and Salar Jung Museum and plans to start offering the codes at these places initially.

The company will be compensated through the “advertising driven” model, said an official at the tourism ministry who did not want to be identified. “We will have private parties coming in to take up various tourist destinations and implementing QR codes at their expense. This will give private parties an opportunity to advertise and promote their organization at a particular tourist destination.”

The plan, this person added, is to start with monuments that come under the purview of the Archaeological Survey of India and “eventually cover most tourist destinations across India”.

Experts say the initiative is in keeping with the growing use of smartphones.

“It will have a positive impact, as it can showcase various sites in India while giving travellers access to information they need,” said Chintan Patel, director, real estate and hospitality services, EY.

“However, it is difficult to say whether it can actually increase” the appeal of India to tourists, he added.

According to a recent report by venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB), India has an estimated 67 million smartphone subscribers in 2013, while the total number across the globe stands at 1.5 billion.

The QR effort is part of India’s larger plan to attract 1% of almost 1.2 billion tourists (around the world) by 2016. The ministry of tourism has been upgrading the underlying technology for its Incredible India website since January and has incorporated Google maps and virtual walking tours of select cities.

Between January and August, India registered a growth of 3.6% in foreign tourist arrivals with 4.3 million travellers, compared with the year-ago period.

(c)2013 the Mint (New Delhi)

Visit the Mint (New Delhi) at www.livemint.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services.

Photo Credit: Tourists outside the Taj Mahal, which will soon have QR codes to 'help' visitors. Friar's Balsam / Flickr