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Travel app coming soon to steer tourists through western counties

Linda Harbuck doesn’t own a smart-phone herself, but that doesn’t stop the veteran Macon County tourism official from understanding and touting the potential benefits of a new phone app being developed to steer tourists through the westernmost tip of the state.

“This is where things seems to be going,” said Harbuck, who has been the executive director of the Franklin Area Chamber of Commerce for 21 years. “So we voted ‘yes’ to buy in and make sure we would be represented.”

The concept spearheaded by the regional tourism and marketing group Smoky Mountain Host is to promote local events and attractions through a smart-phone app. Individual businesses will be able to buy in, too.

Tourism entities in Haywood, Jackson, Macon, Swain, Graham, Cherokee have at least verbally committed to the concept. It costs tourism groups $11,000 to be included in the phone app. In return, they get to select 10 “story points,” Harbuck explained. These are fairly general story ideas, such as waterfalls visitors can go see, museums to visit, the history of gem mining, for example. There will be a minute or two of video, plus photos and links.

The app will be called “UGO Tour NC Mountains,” and is being developed by Story Point Media of Asheville.

Jon Menick, president of Story Point, got the idea after moving to Western North Carolina from Los Angeles, where he worked in television and some in the filmmaking industry. Menick said he quickly fell in love with the far-western counties, but soon realized how difficult it could be for newcomers to find easy and good sources information.

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“It was very unsatisfactory,” he said of his early tour efforts. “I knew a travel app would work, because that is quickly becoming the way to travel.”

So what about those dead spots for cell phone users? No problem, Menick responded — the app is designed so that visitors can preplan their trips to the area, which includes downloading the information as desired. That means the information can be available even where cell-phone reception isn’t available.

The plan is for the state Department of Transportation to put the app on its list of some 2.5 million people, who will be notified that they can download the smart-phone enhancement.

The app should be available to visitors by the end of this summer, Menick said.

How much the phone app costs to develop was not available at press time. In addition to the buy-in fee paid by tourism entities, Smoky Mountain Host got a $10,000 grant from Blue Ridge National Heritage Area for development of the app. Along with county tourism agencies and chambers of commerce, individual tourism-based businesses can buy a place in the app as well.

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