Back in 2011, the Franklin Tourism Development Authority (TDA) and the Macon County Tourism Development Commission (TDC) were informed that they were signing on to the next wave of innovation when they pledged their support behind the Ugotour N.C. Mountains Application.
This new app that was on its way via Smoky Mountain Host was going to revolutionize travel in Western North Carolina. People who had smart phones would be able to download the new application and see interactive videos showing popular locations in the area complete with a story-line. Smoky Mountain Host partnered with Story Point Media. Local businesses would be able to subscribe to services offered by the providers and therefore receive cheap and effective marketing as a result. Promises were made, but most of them fell short and the app was largely considered to be a failure.
“We were pretty sure that we had lost all of the money that we had approved to go towards the app,” said TDA member Summer Woodard. The TDA approved a sum of $11,000 to go to the company that would make the app function as promised.
According to Woodard, the TDA along with the TDC were pretty let down by the app and the company who ran it.
“We’ve seen probably five people come on board that were supposed to make the app work and couldn’t,” she said.
Enter Paul Hedgecock, the new owner and President of Ugotours. Hedgecock has worked with Fortune 500 companies as well as tech companies in Silicon Valley. He believes that he has the experience to take the app in the right direction and in doing so, make these sub-partners happy with their investment.
“I'm not asking for any more money right now,” said Hedgecock when he attended last week's TDA meeting. “I'm here to tell you what is going on with the app as of right now and what we intend to do with it.”
He outlined to the board the things that he had been told did not work. Aside from the aesthetic issues and functionality, the big issue he zeroed in on came from the business side of things.
“A big complaint that we have heard is that there was poor communication between the former owners and the businesses. We also know that there wasn't a marketing plan for 2012 and 2013. There's been some tremendous content added to the app, but it hasn't been leveraged appropriately and that's tragic because it's a good concept. We just need to be able to talk about it and make it work,” he said.
Hedgecock assured the board that he was going to address the problems that had been expressed. One thing that he and his team will be looking to change is the addition of a Ugotour platform on the internet instead of just an app for a cell phone.
“We're finding that people don't want to plan their vacation on their phone,” said Hedgecock.
The website as he described it would allow users to save information to an online database and plan trips using that function.
“Imagine being able to share your itinerary and send it to your friends on Facebook, saying 'look at what I did,'” said Hedgecock.
He pointed to the fact that the former facilitators of the app had never actually developed one before, and he assured his audience that he has experience in this line of work.
The timeline as presented last week indicates that a website as envisioned at the meeting would launch in February 2014 with the Ugotour 2.0 app launch taking place in March.
Where the former operators had no marketing plan in place, according to Hedgecock, 20 percent of the revenues collected will go towards a marketing plan.
“We also envision kiosks at welcome centers and window stickers, as well as online logins. Businesses that sign on will have access to logos and tool kits for inclusion on the website, media, and advertising,” he said.
The Town of Franklin is paid up through July 29, 2014. Businesses will be invited to participate in the project where they will be included in the offerings of the app to the public. The service will be free for participating businesses through June and if satisfied, they will be able to continue using the service for a fee.
“We're looking to make the app affordable. We really want to open this platform up for people to use,” said Hedgecock.
Woodard says that she and the other board members are holding their breath for now.
“I can say that he has been very good about communicating with us so far and that is an improvement from the past. We will just have to see how the launch of Ugotours 2.0 goes when March comes around,” she said.