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News Smoky Mountain Host to launch mobile tour ‘app’

As American consumers are increasingly replacing their “old fashioned” cell phones with state-of-the-art smart-phones, Franklin tourism promoters have decided to invest in a smart-phone application that will promote area businesses, events and attractions.

Smoky Mountain Host, a tourism and marketing organization for the seven western- most counties of North Carolina, is looking to launch a new smart-phone application this month that will give visitors information to plan their trips and guide them on tours of the mountain region while they are here.

The organization has recently approached local tourism boards in the far-western counties, including the Franklin/Nantahala Tourism Development Commission and the Franklin Tourism Development Authority, looking for sub-regional partners in the “mobile app” project.

“We know that all the marketing is moving toward mobile,” said Betty Huskins of Smoky Mountain Host during the April meeting of the Franklin TDA. “We want to get in on the act sooner rather than later.”

The Smoky Mountain Host app – called “Ugo Tour NC Mountains” – will be the first of its kind in North Carolina. Moreover, says Huskins, the designers of the program promise the app will offer a top rate experience for users. Smoky Mountain Host has partnered with Asheville-based Story Point Media to develop the content for the app, which will be rich in content and include informative text, photos, video, web links, phone links and GPS mapping locators.

Smoky Mountain Host hopes to have commitments from four subregional partners before the launch of the app. The organization has already invested $12,000 to $15,000 in the project, including $10,000 in grant money from the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area.

“It will be different from most of the apps you may have seen,” said Huskins of the program, which will be free for all users. “It’s not just going to be your GPS map to get you from point A to point B.”

Story Point’s Jon Menick, who also spoke during the presentation, said that the need for such an app came to him one day when he was visiting Franklin. “The idea really germinated for me one day when I was illegally standing on top of the Nikwasi Mound” in downtown Franklin, he said. “I noticed all of these people driving by. Nobody was stopping at that mound even though it’s one of the great archeological areas in this part of the state.”

This year, the number of people in the country that use a smart phone has exceeded the number of people who have regular cell phones, Menick told the board.

“I think it’s very intriguing,” said TDC chairman Mike Grubermann of the mobile app. Grubermann noted as mobile technology has become so ubiquitous that it only makes sense for tourism organizations to begin marketing through the medium. No decision was made at the meeting, as there was no quorum of TDA members.

Mobile app a go?

At their April 21 meeting, TDC members approved up to $5,500 to buy in to the app as a “sub-regional (WNC) tour level partner.” This is half of the total investment of $11,000 necessary for a subscription at the sub-regional level, and the board approved the funds contingent upon partnering with at least one of the other tourism boards in the county: the Franklin TDA or the Highlands TDC.

Last Monday, the TDA unanimously voted to approve up to $5,500 to subscribe to the app, meeting the TDC half way. This means a go for the project, pending final approval by the TDC at their May 19 meeting.

The sooner Macon jumps on the app bandwagon, the better, said TDA Chairman Candy Pressley at last Monday’s meeting. “It works as an advertising opportunity for those businesses in those seven counties, so it’s good to get in.”

“It would help to be one of the first players in the first app out,” said Grubermann, echoing Arvey. “It would be good to be there and get it going.”

The sub-regional subscription to the app will include the development of 10 “story points” or visitor destinations at a cost of $5,000. Each story point, which can highlight anything from hiking trails to water falls to general attractions of the area, will include a 1-2 minute video, photos and links. The subregional partners will also receive 12 event listings and 12 coupon listings per year. The one-time cost includes the filming and production of the story point videos, which will then become the property of the tourism boards.

According to Grubermann, with the reality of the mobile app being almost certain, the two boards will hold a joint meeting in the coming weeks to discuss the 10 story points that they wish to have represented in the program.

The additional $6,000 investment for the first year covers listings, hosting, servicing, updates and maintenance. In subsequent years, maintenance costs will drop according to how many local businesses are recruited to participate as “front street members.”

According to Linda Harbuck of the Franklin Chamber of Commerce, Jackson County tourism boards have joined in a similar partnership for a sub-regional partner subscription. In addition the Haywood and Cherokee County have both confirmed their subscriptions. Swain County is also looking at becoming a founding partner.

According to Huskins, the founding partners coming in at this point in the project are receiving a special rate. Smoky Mountain Host hopes to have commitments from four sub-regional partners before the launch of the app. The organization has already invested $12,000 to $15,000 in the project, including $10,000 in grant money from the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area. An application has also been submitted to the North Carolina Department of Transportation to help fund the cost of putting the region’s scenic by-ways on the app.

The initial investment has been used in part to create the “overarching framework” for the region by developing 20 regionlevel story points. These first story points will consist of locations that are part of the natural landscape and are publicly owned and therefore cannot fund the production costs, such as the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests, the Cataloochee Valley and other natural and historic destinations.


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