Tourism tech: Kiosk arrives

Visitors in Hope soon will be able to search area tourist attractions using an interactive kiosk.

The first kiosk has been installed in the Heritage of Hope Visitors Information Center, said Bob Fiddler, vice president of Johnny’s Signs Inc. in Bedford.

The center, which will become a satellite office for the Columbus Area Visitors Center, is nearing completion in the former Hope Star-Journal building on the town square.

The kiosk and others to be installed will provide details about hotels, restaurants, attractions and events through the Columbus Area Visitors Center website, columbus.in.us

With an agreement recently signed with Edinburgh Premium Outlets, a second kiosk likely will be installed at the Taylorsville outlet mall within a month, said Lynn Lucas, executive director of the visitors center.

“That’s all we have budgeted for now, but we’ve already paid for the software and design,” Lucas said. “So it won’t take that long to install more kiosks.”

The exact number and locations of additional kiosks likely will be determined when her board of directors discusses the 2016 budget later this year, Lucas said.

The goal of the new indoor kiosks is to keep visitors around longer, Lucas said.

“The beauty is that we will operate the entire content of each kiosk after it’s connected directly to our website,” Lucas said. “It’s simply a touch pad for different items of interest.”

While computerized informational kiosks are usually large, freestanding machines, the Visitors Center was concerned about theft and vandalism, Fiddler said.

When his company turned to a Bloomington-based advertising agency for ideas, the Myers Croxton Group suggested wall-mounted iPads secured with an eighth of an inch of steel, Fiddler said.

“We know everyone wants an iPad,” Fiddler said. “But after we mount these kiosks on drywall, you would have to tear the whole wall out to get to it.”

Although the visitors center originally considered placing the kiosks outside, that concept was scrapped because of weather and safety concerns, Lucas said.

Another proposal called for providing connections outside the Columbus visitors center website to allow visitors to find out information including weather and news. But that concept was abandoned with the realization that a kiosk with outside Internet connections was inviting potential misuse, Fiddler said.

Fiddler said he believes the cost of each unit — in the $2,000 range — will make the concept of the custom-made kiosks appealing to other organizations with similar needs.

“Compared to what is available out there, they are very affordable,” Fiddler said.

Lucas said she’s especially delighted that if a computer is broken or becomes out-of-date, her organization can simply replace the iPad without having to build expensive new kiosks.

“We really put an awful lot of thought into this,” Fiddler said.

Although the kiosk in Hope is installed, it will not become operable until wireless Internet access is established to tap into a central database in Columbus, Lucas said.

Lucas said she’s not sure how long it will be before the necessary connections are completed.

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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.