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Chester County Press

Welcoming visitors with cutting-edge technology

08/29/2016 02:45PM ● By J. Chambless

The 'bridge' video screens resemble a covered bridge.

By John Chambless
Staff Writer

The past has met the future at the headquarters of the Chester County Conference and Visitors Bureau.

The Tourist Information Center, housed in a historic meetinghouse that dates back to before the Civil War, now has a video display table that boasts the best 21st-century technology. At a ribbon cutting on the morning of Aug. 29, local officials and members of the bureau unveiled a touch-screen table that will allow visitors to scroll through everything the Brandywine Valley has to offer, calling up photos, videos and audio which spotlight the region's history, attractions and accommodations like never before.

“We are the official destination marketing organization for the county,” said Susan Hamley, the executive director of the Conference and Visitors Bureau. “Our job is to generate overnight stays. So we do that through commercials, print, billboards, social media, and special events. Once people come here, we want them to start their journey here. We know that 83 percent of our current visitors are day trippers, so we want to change that number and have them stay longer.”

The former layout of the visitors center had people enter the front door and feel like they were in someone's office – which, in a way, they were. Jan Reeps, the manager of guest and partner services, had a desk in the first room on the left, with the tourist brochures, so visitors never quite knew how to approach the information.

Now, there is a high counter in the room on the left, with a desktop computer and chair that welcomes visitors to explore listings of restaurants, attractions, museums and gardens on the bureau's website, or to pick up one of dozens of brochures displayed in the room. And there's always Reeps herself, who can answer questions or guide people to what they're interested in. But in the room to the right of the front door is the big innovation.

The double-sided video “bridge,” as it's being called, is the size of a large conference table, but it has a touch-screen panel that can be manipulated to access information on everything a visitor could want to know. Set up like a computer screen, the panel links to the Conference and Visitors Bureau website as well as a vast amount of other information, videos and sound clips.

Reeps explained, “before, visitors averaged two to five minutes” inside the visitors center. “Now, with this board, they feel more comfortable, and people are staying here 15 to 45 minutes. It's one thing for us to say, 'There's so much to do in the county' and give them brochures. But by letting them get hands-on, in the last two weeks, people have been leaving here saying, 'We're coming back. We're spending the weekend.' So already it has been extremely successful.”

Scott Sharadin, the creative director at Miller Designworks of Phoenixville, explained how his team created the new visitor experience.

“There's three pieces of technology going on,” Sharadin said. “One is a web kiosk that links to the website, but also engages the visitor to place a marker of where they're coming from, so we can get a record of that, and people can see that people are coming from all over. For the next part, we wanted to make things available that are happening weekly or daily, so we created a digital sign system that can be updated. The final piece is the table. It's a multi-touch table that's constructed like covered bridge.”

The support for the video screens is constructed from reclaimed lumber, and the peak of the two screens gives the structure the look of a covered bridge. What makes the device unique in the world is a motor that can lower the two video panels and convert them into a flat conference table when people want to have meetings. “It was a tricky piece of engineering, and we're very excited about it,” Sharadin said.

The touch screen “tells the story of Chester County in six parts,” he said. “Some goes very deep, some is just an overview. And all of it is intended to engage the user and to get them to ask questions. It's a jumping-off point for exploring the county.”

There are screens that give a 360-degree view of downtown Kennett Square, for instance, and another that rotates a 3-D model of a covered bridge so visitors can appreciate how they're built. Essentially, the new “bridge” takes what a top-end computer does and gives it a wow factor.

Chester County Commissioner Terence Farrell cut the ribbon for the new addition, and said, “This is an example of government using technology to its best advantage. This makes the experience of Chester County come to life. That reality will have an impact on visitors. Of course, once they discover how much we have to offer, they want to move here,” he added, smiling. “That accounts for why we're the fastest-growing community in the Commonwealth. We are thrilled to welcome this partnership between technology and the Conference and Visitors Bureau.”

The Tourist Information Center is at 300 Greenwood Road in Kennett Square, near the entrance to Longwood Gardens. It is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visit www.BrandywineValley.com.

To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, email jchambless@chestercounty.com.

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