Arts & Entertainment, Technology, and Travel & Tourism

Smartphone users take walking tours of downtown Grand Rapids

November 29, 2012
TAGS app / mobile / QR code
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Smartphone users take walking tours of downtown Grand Rapids

All the secrets of Grand Rapids can now fit in your hand.

Thanks to the technology of mobile phones and a collaboration between the city, Grand Rapids Downtown Alliance, Experience Grand Rapids and Community Media Center, there's a mobile website available that allows tourists and adventurous souls to explore downtown using their phones as maps and tour guides.

Two walkable tours are offered, with directions available through text. The first is a historical tour of 13 different city sites, complete with “historical snippets” about Grand Rapids history. The second is an “Art Around The Corner” tour, which leads tourists past public sculptures and art venues.

The tour is highly interactive, using QR codes on signs that can be scanned at each location’s stop points. Barcode scanners can be downloaded for free as apps. The tour’s website recommends “Barcodes” for iPhones, “Barcode Scanner” for Androids, and “ScanLife” for Blackberries.

The interactive and informative tour was spearheaded by Experience Grand Rapids, which also has ownership of the concept, said Nicole Weichelt, Downtown Alliance marketing coordinator.

Creators worked closely with the city to produce QR signs, she said, as well as the Grand Rapids Historical Commission to produce historical details.

“It’s interactive in the fact that it links up with Foursquare and Flickr, so as you’re taking this tour, you can post that you were there,” she said. “Not only is it something that you’re learning about, but you’re able to show others what you’ve encountered along the way.”

The tour has surprisingly attracted an older audience, Weichelt said. It not only provides users with a meaningful interactive experience with the city, she said, but also provides free exposure to downtown retail.

“For us, it’s that they’re also walking past our businesses. So they’re not only exposed to Grand Rapids history, but the shopping and the places to eat,” she said. “That’s why it was exciting to us. It got people on the streets.”

This was CMC’s first dive into mobile use, said Aron Duby, senior web developer at CMC. The idea was the brainchild of Laurie Cirivello, CMC’s executive director, he said. Duby created the web app, which launched a first edition in 2011 before implementing a second version in June.

The number of mobile users is skyrocketing, Duby said, meaning businesses should expect more products and tools to become based in the mobile world.

He mentioned systems he’s heard of in California, where users can report city maintenance issues using an app to pinpoint the location for city workers, as well as an app allowing users to find and reserve parking spaces.

It’s possible that kind of interaction could happen in Grand Rapids someday, he said.

“It’s really exciting to see where we take this as there’s more and more people using this kind of stuff in engaging ways. Any time you put the tools in the palm of someone’s hand, rather than go to the site or have to call a congressman, it’s always better,” he said, before pausing and correcting himself. “Well, at least faster.”

To start a tour, check out http://www.grtagtour.org/ or visit http://www.experiencegr.com/social-lounge/tag-tour/.

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