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Beacon technology gives Central Florida tourist sites new awareness

October 19, 2015
Orlando, FL

An inconspicuous rectangular device on the historical marker in front of Donnelly House is helping Mount Dora employ the latest tech to show off its heritage.

Beacon technology, which is largely envisioned for pushing brick-and-mortar merchants' deals directly to nearby shoppers' phones, is getting a test run that includes a historic walking tour.

Visitors receive information about a landmark on their phone when they approach it, using an app built by Orlando-based Telemetree. It's an effort to attract a different set of visitors to the historic city.

"We hope this will appeal to a younger demographic, which we don't naturally draw," said Brian Young of the local tourism agency Visit Mount Dora. "The younger demographic likes to play with the gadgets on their phone. We will see if this resonates."

Officials with Telemetree hope their beacons being tested at historic sites lead to more deployment at Central Florida merchants.

For instance, if a customer stops into Cody's on 4th in Mount Dora, the owner could push a daily deal using the beacon, which shares preloaded information to a receiver.

Some high-profile merchants have met with early success in beacon-technology trials. Last year, national retailers such as JC Penney and Lord & Taylor used their mobile apps to promote deals via beacons. Macy's last year rolled out beacons to all of its stores nationwide.

In August, Target began its own pilot program, installing the tech in 50 of its stores, although none of those is in Orlando.

The Orlando Magic announced this summer that fans who attend games this season will be able to order and have food delivered to their seats thanks to beacons placed throughout Amway Center, becoming the first NBA team to delve into similar technology.

Telemetree CEO Ron Cook says central apps for beacons offer advantages compared with merchants' individual apps.

"The beauty of having one application when I get off the plane and I walk into the Gaslamp quarter [in San Diego], I'm going to get welcomed and I'll find out about [everyone's deals]," Cook said. "The proximity-based delivery is more important than having an app for every retail store."

Telemetree hopes to deploy the technology in downtown Orlando by the end of the year. Users who opt in by downloading the application will be alerted to available deals at stores they have gone into

"We are making the assumption that if someone walks into Harry Buffalo, they would like to get information because they have already committed to Harry Buffalo," Cook said.

The technology could be a boon for store owners, who can choose to feature deals that hadn't been selling well or, perhaps, one that everyone is buying.

Beacon tech can also provide data related to movement within a store, such as time spent in certain sections.

Orlando marketing expert Tom Jelneck said that's a double-edged sword consumers and merchants must be careful about.

"As a marketer, I drool over that because I can collect data on customer movement within a store," said Jelneck, owner of On Target Digital Marketing Agency. However, "as a consumer, it tends to freak me out because it's kind of stalkerish.

"They are giving consumers something in return, but their intentions are more than likely to follow and stalk the behavior of the user."

In beacon technology, a low-powered transmitter broadcasts signals that can be received by nearby devices, such as smartphones.

For Telemetree's product, an application is programmed to receive these signals and display information related to the specific signal.

App users approaching a historical site, for instance, receive a short paragraph about the site's historical significance or its architecture — such as the fact Donnelly House was built in 1893 by the city's mayor as a gift to his bride.

"We are trying to determine how to translate technology into an appreciation of history," Young said. "Right now, they walk by these buildings and it doesn't mean anything to them. We are trying to communicate to them that there is something significant here."

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