Visitor bureau selects an app to put Wrangell on a 3D informational map

The Wrangell Convention and Visitor Bureau is converting the town to digital.

On May 24, the WCVB board unanimously approved spending up to $12,000 with a mobile mapping app provider to aid and encourage travelers and increase data analytics for marketing.

At the monthly board meeting, Economic Development Director Kate Thomas and Matt Henson, the borough’s marketing and community development director, presented board members with results of their research into smartphone mapping software.

“This is meant to be a software platform that serves businesses on the ground here in Wrangell but also acts as infrastructure that supports the independent traveler,” Thomas said in an interview last Wednesday. “Will it be used by cruise passengers or otherwise? Yeah, maybe, but it’s more or less for those who … want to do things independently.”

It’s appeal, she said, is to those who want non-guided excursions.

“It is essentially a 3D topographical interactive map. It’s going to show your landscape with elevation, coastline and major features for Wrangell specifically,” she said.

Thomas said they hope to have the app up and running no later than July to take advantage of the rest of the tourist season.

Of the two apps Thomas and Henson narrowed it down to, their preferred choice is Wander due to its cost and accessibility. The app presents a topographical image of the island, complete with roads, points of interest, businesses and public amenities. It allows the user to map out distances between places and get information about those places.

“You can click on each item and within the icon, once it opens up, it would have directions, the telephone number, the website, a link to be able to share it,” Thomas said. “Then it would have a narrative. Some things would be very basic. You’re not going to have a long narrative for your gas station, but you’re going to have a narrative for Chief Shakes Tribal House and a link to the WCA website.”

Another feature that had the staff sold on the Wander app is its ability to provide information both online and offline. Once the app is downloaded to a traveler’s phone, the map, points of interest and other items would be available even after the person is out of cell service. It won’t have enough topographical information to act as a navigational aid, Thomas said, but it would act as a place locator.

Thomas pointed out that cell service is spotty past 2.5 Mile or past the golf course down the Spur Road, “which means 75% of our points of interest are out of cell range.” She added that there are only two cell phone service providers that tend to work well in Wrangell.

“The beauty of the software is that it works on and offline, so it acts as a GPS that works by satellite,” she said. “That was critical to us because most of the mobile mapping software out there requires you to have cell service.”

Along with helping travelers plan out their adventures in Wrangell, the software would allow WVCB to collect analytical data on its users so they would know how to better market the community as a destination to other travelers.

Though the technology might not fly with some of the island’s older visitors, board members agreed that the app could be useful in attracting a younger population.

The visitor bureau would sign up for a year at a time to make sure they were getting a good return on their investment in the software. The first year with Utah-based Wander would cost $10,000, which would be paid for through the Marian Glenz Fund. Glenz, who died in 2017, was the chair of the WCVB board for a long time. She left the fund so that the visitor bureau could “try new mediums for marketing and development as it relates to tourism when there wasn’t room to do that,” Thomas said.

She said the fund would be able to cover the annual $6,000 service fee and $2,000 add-on features fee for about three years “without zeroing out that fund balance … and not pull it from the (borough) general fund until we know we’re getting the analytics we want to see out of it.”

The app will be beneficial in a way that traditional print guides are not in that it can be updated if anything changes in the community. If a business closes or opens, changes its contact information or location, that can be reflected as soon as it happens in the Wander app.

Once the software is implemented, Thomas said she and Henson would work to notify the community and business owners so that information could be added as soon as possible.

Because the staff at Wander were so interested in Wrangell, they started researching and building it for demonstration purposes.

“The beautiful thing is they started to already implement some of our points of interest when they did a demo for us,” Thomas said. “They did it in a destination-specific fashion, where normally they would give you a demo of another community. They were so interested in Wrangell and thought it was such a unique location, that they started to upload our local points of interest to show us the demo.”


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