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NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. – In tourist towns worldwide, visitors are greeted with racks of brochures promoting everything from tours and museums to restaurants and hotels. But in the world of computers, smartphones and tablets, a new interactive visitor kiosk developed in South Carolina and deployed as far away as New York City might make such brochures a thing of the past.
Chad Priest says it was one of those cluttered racks in Charleston, a city that attracts 4.5 million visitors a year, that prompted the idea for the kiosk.
"We said there's got to be a better way, with all the technology we have now," said Priest, chief operating officer of City Corridor, the technology firm that developed the flat-faced kiosks with a large touch screen for visitors to see ads for attractions, make reservations and print out maps, menus and more.
Forty-two of the kiosks, an answer to what he called the "spray and pray mentality" of using tourist brochures, are now located in hotels and other businesses in Charleston. They also include a bank card reader so visitors can immediately purchase tickets to attractions.
Priest, whose background is in retail and digital signs, developed the kiosks with Caleb Yaryan, whose background is in software and network security. Yaryan is the company's chief technology officer.
They say the kiosks also serve advertisers by offering quick feedback on how many people click their ads or print coupons. And businesses can quickly alter the content of their ads, if needed, by computer. A camera on the kiosk also provides information on who uses the machines and whether they be children, young adults or retired people.
The Charleston machines have been nicknamed Charles, and each has a logo with a bow tie. Thirteen also have been placed on Hilton Head Island, S.C.
Last summer, four were placed at the New York City visitors center in Macy's in Herald Square. Those kiosks can print in nine different languages. Priest said City Corridor is working with New York City and Co., the city's tourism bureau, to place more kiosks there in the coming months.
Priest said the basic technology of the City Corridor kiosks is not new: "There is no one piece of technology that we have that no one else has." But he said there was no device bringing together the various tasks the City Corridor kiosk performs in one machine while providing feedback to advertisers.
Rick Mosteller, vice president of Fort Sumter & Spiritline Cruises in Charleston, said the kiosk is like having a billboard in a hotel lobby for his business.
"It's a perfect way to reach our clientele, and we have seen our sales increase as a result of that," he said.
The bank card reader also helps sell tickets immediately, as opposed to someone picking up a tour brochure and forgetting about it. "It helps consummate the sale right at the point where people's interest is piqued and they say yes, that is what I'd like to do," he said.
A few years ago, such kiosks would have been impossible, said Rick Swain, a systems architect with Verizon in South Carolina, whose wireless network is used for the Charleston machines.
"Solutions like this can't exist without powerful wireless backbones," he said.
Ken Finnegan, City Corridor's CEO, said, "Everyone would be reluctant to have it on their network and you would have firewall and security issues." But now he said the kiosks only require a small footprint - often less than that of a brochure rack - and an electrical outlet.