More than 90 percent of the U.S. population now owns a smartphone. Changing how people experience a destination, smartphones and the apps they run are rapidly becoming the go-to information gathering method for visitors to the San Juans.
A Washington State Ferry makes its way to the San Juan Islands.
Recognizing this trend, in the summer of 2016, the Chambers of Commerce for Lopez, Orcas and San Juan Islands launched a visitors app called San Juan Islands Insider using the 468 Insider platform from 468 Communications. The free app, funded by a San Juan County lodging tax grant, gives users information about points of interest and rewards them for visiting places around the San Juans. Users collect points as they explore the islands and redeem those points for discounts on goods and services at participating Rewards locations. By gamifying the tourist wayfinding experience, the app creates incentives to explore some of the off-the-beaten path places around the islands while rewarding people for shopping at local businesses.
Many points of interest around the San Juans have limited information available to the public. Visitors either never discover those places, or they don’t behave in a way that helps preserve some of the more sensitive areas around the islands. The San Juan Islands Insider app helps fill the gap by putting information in the format of choice for today’s tourist – mobile.
Robert S. Harrison, whose Island Wedding Photography business is a Rewards location in the San Juan Islands Insider app, said, “it’s an interesting way to promote responsible tourism while supporting local businesses.”
Because the app doesn’t rely on cell reception to work, visitors can get information on local destinations – even in the most connection-challenged locations.
Manda Goff, a tourist in the San Juans before moving there, used to get frustrated by the lack of cell reception as she explored the islands. “One aspect of this app that I love is that it makes information about the San Juans accessible,” she said. “It provides a different quality of experience; I’m a big supporter of it.”
There are more than 150 destinations in the app, including more than 70 island businesses offering visitors rewards ranging from espresso drinks to discounts on wildlife tours and hotel rooms. Businesses can choose to be simply highlighted on the map, a point collection location, or a place where people can redeem points for rewards. These Rewards locations can determine what kind of reward they offer visitors who redeem points. By offering placement in the app to local businesses, the San Juan chambers of commerce increase the value of membership for their members.
San Juan Islands Insider isn’t just for visitors to the archipelago. Becky Day, the executive director for the San Juan Island chamber of commerce, uses the app for shop local programs on the island. Over the winter holidays, San Juan businesses face the challenge of preventing locals from going off island for their holiday shopping. Ms. Day decided to boost the points that could be earned at local businesses over the holiday season while offering bigger rewards in the app as a way to create incentives for residents to shop locally instead of going to the mainland to buy their gifts.
The San Juan Islands Insider has become an integral part of the marketing mix for the islands’ chambers of commerce – providing value to visitors, residents and local businesses, while generating valuable data for the chambers and San Juan County.