New device lets tourists reach out and touch local attractions

Business and civic leaders poked and prodded the 24-inch touch-screen, navigating menus that allowed them to zap coupons to their cell phones and browse sample lists of accommodations and attractions.

They were trying out a demonstration version of a Tourist Assistance Portal, a device that will soon put information about things to see and do across Beaufort County at travelers' fingertips.

The Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce's Visitor & Convention Bureau showed off the demo version Tuesday during a meeting in which its leaders briefed attendees on tourism marketing efforts.

The chamber is buying a 42-inch version for its welcome center for $20,000 with the help of a Beaufort County grant from state accommodations tax revenues.

Executive director Bob Moquin expects the VCB to recoup the device's cost by selling listings to local businesses. For $39 to $239 per month, featured businesses can share maps, directions, menus, photos and special deals, some of which can be sent to users' cell phones.

The device, which also will display an events calendar and weather forecast, should be available by mid-December. Once in place, the VCB will consider putting more of the devices in other high-traffic locations, Moquin said.

The Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce also plans to use money from state accommodations taxes -- a 2 percent tax on overnight lodging -- to put a similar device at its welcome center and other locations within six to nine months, spokeswoman Charlie Clark said.

The chambers are buying the devices from BlueFocus Media, a Savannah company that has supplied several visitors centers in that city.

Carlotta Ungaro, the Beaufort chamber's president and CEO, used one of the devices to search for a music venue on a recent trip across the Georgia line.

"We found it, and we caught some cool jazz," she said.

Evelene Stevenson, owner of tour company the Spirit of Old Beaufort, decided to sign her business up after chamber officials recently showed her the device.

"I think it's a good technology," she said.