- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 26, 2001

Forget about Fodor's guide to Washington.

Fold up those color-coded maps.

Now D.C. tourists, using their cell phones, can listen to John F. Kennedy's inaugural speech as they stand on the steps of the Capitol, or hear a re-enactment of Abraham Lincoln's assassination when they visit Ford's Theatre.

The city has been turned into a museum thanks to BeyondGuide, a new audio tour guide that details more than 150 sites and attractions in Washington.

"We're building the next best thing to having the best human tour guide walking next to you," said Yechaim Halevy, president and chief executive of the Rockville company. "It's a new level of experience."

BeyondGuide enables users to get tour information on their cell phones. The service allows a touring vacationer to stand at the Lincoln Memorial, for example, and hear Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.

"It's got a lot of potential," said Rebecca Pawlowski, media relations manager for the Washington, DC Convention and Tourism Corp. "We obviously want people to get the most information about Washington, and if visitors can get inside information [about attractions] then it's an added bonus."

Users access the personal tour guide by dialing a toll-free number (866-33GUIDE) and for $10 charged to their credit cards they can listen to as much information as they want in a 24-hour period. They can interrupt the narrator to bypass certain stories or have other ones repeated. They can hang up and call back when they get to a site.

The cost really depends on how many free minutes a tourist has on his or her cell phone. Many cell phone users have countless free minutes especially on nights and weekends with no chance of using them up each month.

Mr. Halevy, a technology guru, developed the BeyondGuide system as a result of some of the interactive technology he designed for museums throughout the country.

Before starting his own company, formerly known as Thunderwave, in 1993, Mr. Halevy worked for the U.S. Holocaust Museum, where he developed a technology that allowed visitors to create their own tours of the museum's archives based on their interests.

BeyondGuide started testing its interactive system for tourists in April and has since partnered with Embassy Suites Downtown in offering the service free to hotel guests.

About 40 to 60 users call into the system each day, Mr. Halevy said.

The hotel, on 22nd Street between M and N streets NW, began offering the service to all of its guests in mid-July and will continue the experiment until the end of August.

"It puts our guests in control of their sightseeing," said David Del Russo, manager of the 318-suite hotel. "The visitor information gives the nitty-gritty details our guests want to hear about."

The partnership with the hotel is giving BeyondGuide executives a chance to get feedback, work out kinks and add more content to sites that people want to learn more about.

For instance, BeyondGuide recognizes 450 names associated with Washington but has information for about 150 of them. That number is likely to grow depending on how much content people are looking for.

"I think it is a great idea," said Jack Nargil, head concierge at the Hay-Adams Hotel at 16th and H streets NW. "It's an alternate way to see the city."

The historic Hay-Adams Hotel is one of the sites highlighted on the tour, which gives detailed information about how the hotel got its name, who has stayed there and what kind of deals have happened at meetings held there.

Mr. Nargil has suggested the service to hotel guests and has gotten a positive response.

"Everyone has their own way of sightseeing, and this gives people another choice," he said.

BeyondGuide is currently in Washington, but the company has aggressive plans to expand in other major cities in the United States and in Europe. The company, which got its original $2.5 million in seed money in June 2000, plans to take the service to New York, Boston and San Francisco later this year or the early part of next year.

BeyondGuide is close to securing an additional $10 million to fund its global expansion. Mr. Halevy plans to take BeyondGuide to Europe, focusing on London, Paris, Berlin and Rome.

The service currently is in English, but the company will test a bilingual service English and German in Europe at the end of August.

Mr. Halevy thinks turning a city into its own museum can work, especially since no one else is doing it.

"We don't see any competition with tour books, a good map or even a good tour guide," Mr. Halevy said. "It's a very personal experience.

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