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Columbia visitor center to use iPads to provide community information

Tuesday, February 5, 2013 | 3:03 p.m. CST; updated 4:30 p.m. CST, Tuesday, February 5, 2013

COLUMBIA — More than 45 people filled the lobby of the Daniel Boone City Building, but they didn't show up to eat free doughnuts and drink coffee. They were there to celebrate the unveiling of the community visitor center. 

The new center had brochures and information on local attractions, and Amy Schneider, the director of the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau, said more reading material would be added. Some of the information will be uploaded on iPads, which will be available to the public by the end of the month.

The iPad kiosks will serve as the main information source. The equipment will be preloaded with travel apps such as Yelp and AroundMe.

“Somebody may come in and they might not have access to applications or the Web, and they can use our iPads to get there,” Schneider said.

Visitors will be able to look up destinations on the iPads and print street directions at the center.

Schneider said plans are also under way to develop a mobile website that would allow people to access city information on smartphones. This will occur later this year as part of the project to revamp the city's website.

However, with online information readily available from anywhere, the visitors center has more to offer than iPad apps and brochures.

“In this day and age of electronic convenience, visitor centers as we knew them aren’t absolutely necessary,” Schneider said.

But the center is not just for visitors; it's also a way to get residents involved in the community. Schneider, who had the idea for the project, said she conceived it as a way for tourists to interact with residents and get tips that cannot be found online.

The center will be staffed by volunteers from Thursday through Saturday. They will be responsible for making coffee and directing visitors. Schneider said she also intends to extend volunteer shifts during special events such as the True/False Film Festival.

Schneider said she anticipates the center's success based on the limited resources required to keep it open. There are no fees for rent, the staff is volunteer and the furniture and iPads have already been paid for by the tourism bureau's budget. The total cost of the project ran between $10,000 and $12,000. 

Along with the small cost of running the center, Schneider predicts success based on her research.

“Just talking to other cities, downtown visitor centers are very popular,” Schneider said.

Supervising editor is Emilie Stigliani.


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