In 2018, tourism accounted $4.4 billion of Sri Lanka’s GDP with arrivals exceeding 2.3 million. But recent sentiments share a stark contrast to that of in the past. According to the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority, tourist arrivals in April have dropped to 166,975 from last year’s 180,429 (YoY). That’s a 7.5% decrease. Yes, tourism has taken a downturn. But the massive potential of the industry still remains the same. The team from Gametegic (Pvt) Ltd. are betting on this with Toureazy and Miracle VR.
It all started as a final year research project
Seeds of the idea behind Miracle VR was first planted back in 2004. This was when Kanushka Jayakody, Founder/CEO of Gametegic, showcased a version of Polonnaruwa Watadage back during ancient times via a 3D animation. This was presented at a Dhamma School exhibition.
Fast forward a decade later, Kanushka was in his final year at SLIIT. For his final year research project, Kanushka and his project members Kasun, Mayuran, and Gihan presented an idea for a smart travel assistant called “Touristeun”. The focus was primarily on building a good product and getting top marks.
Then came NBQSA 2015, where the team won a merit award under the tertiary category. At the time, several companies and individuals had invited the team to present their products. The Touristeun team went through several discussions and was offered the opportunity to take their project to the next phase. But the offer wasn’t really favorable. So the team declined.
But on the positive side, a few had already heard about the product and was curious enough to reach out to the team. After their appearance on Seedstars Colombo 2 years back, this interest only started growing.
Then a Sri Lankan residing in the US had reached out to the team and expressed his interest in coming on board as an angel investor. By early 2017, the team officially incorporated their startup. Now the ball really started rolling.
Gametegic: Say hello to Toureazy and Miracle VR
Currently, Gametegic offers two products in this regard. One is an Augmented Reality based mobile app, called Toureazy. With this app, you can find historical sites like Sigiriya reconstructed in AR to offer viewers a glimpse of what it looked like in the past. Additionally, the app can also tell you things about the surrounding restaurants and cafes, and tips about a certain historical site. Things that tourists would find useful. All accessible offline on the app of course.
The second product comes in the form of a Virtual Reality headset, called Miracle VR. Here, you would get a more realistic view of the reconstructed historical site of what it looked like in the past. Users will be given a virtual tour while offering insights on each important element of the location. For example, if you take a Sigiriya Lion Rock VR Tour, not only would you see Sigiriya Fortress at its original state. But also how people were back then and what really happened on a daily basis there.
So what’s the big deal?
One of the team’s key highlights is the validity of the information presented in their 2 products. All of the content is verified by Professor Senarath Bandara Dissanayake – Former Director of the Department of Archeology, and Professor P. B. Mandawala – current Director General of Archeology Department who has over 35 years of industry experience. This extends to Toureazy’s visual constructs as well, where accuracy and validity are vital.
“අද තමයි සීගිරිය හරියටම දැක්කේ” (today, I saw the real Sigiriya). This is was what Professor Dissanayake, had to say upon seeing the Sigiriya VR tour for the first time. For those of you who don’t know, Professor Dissanayake comes from over 30 years of experience in the field of archeology.
Another interesting aspect is how the products are actually put on the market. The Miracle VR tour is to be implemented at a few hotels and resorts as an entertainment-based amenity, in areas like Colombo, Kalutara, Hambantota, and Kandy. Here, guests could try it out as time-based packages. The Gametegic team hopes to drive traffic from these hotels and resorts to these sites.
From a hotel standpoint, this essentially adds an interesting experience for the many tourists that visit Sri Lanka. Thus offering an incentive for both parties. Of course, convincing those first few prospective clients was challenging for the team. But once the positive feedback started coming in, getting people on board became less taxing for Gametegic. So far, out of 121 demonstrations to tourists across 6 different locations, 15 of them went on to make a visit to Sigiriya.
Currently, Toureazy only offers Sigiriya, Polonnaruwa, Anuradhapura in their catalog. But they expect to add more areas such as Kandy and Galle as they go along. Adding a new location requires a lot of thorough research before even thinking of the content development process. Kanushka notes that its challenging and time consuming to actually get content verified and scale accurately for the visual constructs. After all, it’s not just about pretty VR walkthroughs.
The road ahead
If you take hotels, there are certain amenities that one would expect by default, such as a functioning gym. Kanushka, on the other hand, hopes that one day a VR Arcade will be added to this list of expected amenities. Speaking to ReadMe, Kanushka, stated, “we’re about to launch our Miracle VR platform in two major hotels, Ramada International Hotel and Shangri-la Hambantota Resort. We’re also going to establish a VR center in Sigiriya museum by partnering with Central Cultural Fund of Sri Lanka.”
The Gametegic team recently did a pilot run with Sigiriya Museum where they offered this experience to more than 500 visitors. Following the positive feedback, the team aims to unveil the VR center inside Sigiriya Museum soon with the help of CCF, and the Ministry of Housing and Cultural Affairs.
For Toureazy on the other hand, the app won’t just be catered to Sri Lanka anymore. Following successful partnerships at Nexus Startup Hub in India, the Gametegic team is looking to introduce the mobile app to Nepal and Bhutan.
We’re usually a bit skeptical when it comes to AR and VR related products. Yes, they all look and feel cool. But at the end of the day, gimmicks alone won’t sell. Fortunately, from our own experience, Toureazy and Miracle VR are not all gimmicks. One could see the attention to detail that has been paid to in offering a worthwhile experience.
You would find the Sigiriya VR tour more rewarding if you’ve already been to Sigiriya. So, seeing what it was like centuries ago gives an interestingly unique perspective. Back in early April, we talked about how tech has changed the travel industry for the better. Initiatives like this make a strong case for how technology can be leveraged to drive the industry further. Now, will Gametegic prove their potential in the market? We would like to hope so.