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News Macon tourism gets wirelessly ‘wired-in’ with smart-phone apps

It’s official — Macon County tourism promoters have approved funding for a smart-phone application or “app” that will promote area businesses, events and attractions.

At its May 19 meeting, the Franklin/Nantahala Tourism Development Commission (TDC) reaffirmed their vote to approve investing in the mobile phone program jointly with Franklin’s Tourism Development Authority (TDA).

After several months of deliberations, both boards, funded by county and town occupancy tax receipts, have agreed to pay $5,500 each to fund the endeavor, at a total cost of $11,000.

“We’ll be moving forward with the mobile phone app jointly with the TDA,” reported TDC Secretary Linda Harbuck on Friday. At least in theory, the joint endeavor to digitally promote the area will further Macon County’s reach to younger tourists, said Harbuck. “The philosophy is to explore new avenues and ideas and appeal to younger tourists,” she remarked.

Smoky Mountain Host (SMH), a tourism and marketing organization for the seven westernmost counties of North Carolina, approached the two boards in early spring looking for funds to help launch the smart-phone application, which is designed to give visitors information to plan their trips and guide them on tours of the mountain region while they are here.

The SMH mobile app — called “Ugo Tour NC Mountains” — will be the first of its kind in North Carolina and free for all users.

By partnering with Asheville-based Story Point Media to develop the content for the app, SMH promises the app will be rich in content and include informative text, photos, video, web links, phone links and GPS mapping locators.

SMH has also approached other tourism boards in the far western counties, looking for sub-regional partners in the mobile app project.

So far, Swain got on board with the project last month, with Macon County following their lead last week. Cherokee, Graham, Haywood and Jackson counties are still considering jumping on the app-bandwagon, according to Story Points operator Brian Hughes, adding that Clay County’s involvement is uncertain at this time.

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 one- to two-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.

The two Franklin tourism boards will hold a joint meeting on June 13 at the Cajun Connection restaurant to discuss the 10 story points that they wish to have represented in the program.

The program itself is currently operational, but not available to the public yet, explained Story Points’ Bryan Hughes. “The program is in its bare stages right now and the official launch should be in the late summer,” he said. “We still need to work out a few things.”

“I think it’s great,” said TDA Chairman Candy Pressley. “New technology is something a lot of people are going for. It’s an easy information board.”

TDC chairman Michael Grubermann said that the program caters to a younger base of non-retired tourists. “It’s a fairly extensive age group of people between 20 and 40 who might not read the visitor’s guides ... We are trying to make ourselves available in the new media,” Grubermann said.


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