By Hugh S. Austin
FIFTEEN YEARS AGO I WROTE AN
article for our then International Association of Assembly Managers
(IAAM) Facility Manager magazine titled, “Interactive Technology is
Great as Long as You Translate It into Services for the Patron.” At the
time the venue I managed, the Montgomery Civic and Conference Center,
was host to the United States Air Force Information Technology
Conference. The Center and Conference were one of the first for a venue
to offer convention attendees online registration and interactive
conference information. Through the partnership with the USAF, the
Center distributed conference materials and registered over 2,000
attendees in less than two hours the opening morning with a limited
number of staff members. It was 1996, the year of the Centennial Olympic
Games in Atlanta.
In the article I also wrote about attending our IAAM
Annual Conference & Trade Show in Philadelphia several months before the
Air Force conference, where the buzz was about the “world wide web” and
going “interactive.” Questions being asked with great interest included:
“What is an interactive web?” “Is it cost efficient for our facilities?”
“Is it something we need to invest in?” Today, no convention center is
without these tools for their patrons, and we all are looking for more
ways to capitalize on their ubiquity.
While many of the digital services our clients use
today are provided through third-party vendors, if not through their own
organizations and associations, we still need to be innovative and
forward-thinking about venue technology.
Here at the Georgia International Convention Center (GICC)
we have implemented several technologies to support our clients’ desire
for enhanced connectivity. About a year ago we joined our friends at the
Boston and Hynes Convention Centers in Massachusetts, and rolled out a
smart phone application we call “myGICC.” Our service provider is
SwiftMobile, and the app is available on all three major platforms:
Apple, Blackberry and Android.
We quickly found opportunities to deliver onsite
information for our patrons through my GICC. Using our in-house WiFi,
our Concierge staff employs iPads loaded with the app to assist guests
with local destination information – hotel directions, local
restaurants, shopping, etc. We also include flight information, local
transportation options and traffic alerts. We can also employ the app to
print remotely in order to provide hard copy information for our guests.
Now that our GICC-Gateway Center is connected directly
via a quick two-minute ride on the free ATL SkyTrain to “the world’s
busiest airport,” our Concierge team can also use the app to direct
guests, via their portable devices, to Atlanta’s MARTA train system at
the airport for transportation into the city of Atlanta. Guests can be
directed to Atlanta’s downtown attractions, such as the Georgia
Aquarium, the World of Coke, and soon the newest attractions, the Civil
Rights Museum and the College Football Hall of Fame – not to mention the
world-class facilities of the Georgia World Congress Center complex and
Philips Arena, and our many live entertainment venues.
We plan to roll out two other concepts within the year.
The first will be our GICC Food Studio website. We’ll interact with our
website to combine with our Facebook, Twitter and YouTube presence to
present our latest and greatest culinary creations. Our focus will be on
connecting with those who have enjoyed our food before, during and after
their events. We will give our guests the ability to interact with our
Culinary staff and Executive Chef Delroy Bowen. We will even go behind
the scenes to cover special events, such as our annual participation
off-site in the National Black College Alumni Hall of Fame Foundation’s
“Chefs of the World: A Taste of Fame,” where we have led the bidding for
gastronomic presentations and productions in past years.
As many venues are doing now, we are designing a
digital share-point system to distribute event information to our event
services departments that will replace the piles of paper we use for
event information, layouts and banquet event orders. All of this
information will be presented digitally on portable devices such as
tables and iPads. Increased efficiency and sustainability are the two
big benefits of this initiative.
Easy-to-access “services for the patron” are an
absolute priority in our industry as the level of competition for events
and clients reaches new heights. We must continue to work diligently to
provide new meeting planning and technology tools that deliver excellent
customer service and help our patrons work smarter and more efficiently.
Could we have imagined just 20 years ago that cell phones would
transcend from looking like bricks in bags to today’s smart phones?
Interactive technology has
evolved at lightning speed, and it’s our job to bottle the lightning for
our clients and their events.
Hugh S. Austin is executive director of the Georgia International
Convention Center in College Park, Georgia. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.