The City of Gloucester: a growing tourist destination; venue for Rugby World Cup matches in 2015; home to the largest stained-glass window in Britain and burial place of the man who wrote the music for the US national anthem. When Marketing Gloucester faced the challenge of guiding visitors around the city's fascinating streets on foot, they needed a user-friendly bespoke mobile app...
Working with Gloucester City Council, Marketing Gloucester developed a brief for an app to guide visitors around three new tours: one around the city-centre; another focused on Royal connections and religious buildings; and a new all-year-round walk through the recently regenerated Gloucester Docks.
Marketing Gloucester's Ben Hau takes up the story: 'Knowing that we needed a mobile app for the 35-45-minute walks, we approached three companies for proposals. iconnet was the most local and immediately impressed us with their collaborative approach and how they built-in constant testing and improvement during the development and "go live" phases.
We also had future enhancements in mind, including tailored versions for the Rugby World Cup, international language and ad-funded versions. 'Being just around the corner from us, their clear long-term commitment to supporting the project, and a budget-saving proposal to develop a browser-based app rather than separate iOS, Android and Windows versions really appealed.'
After initial proposals and meetings with MG and Gloucester City Council (GCC), the obviously tailored iconnet proposal won the day. 'The other proposals,' explains Hau, 'took a "here's what we've done and how it will work for you" approach, which wasn't what we wanted.'
Hau enthuses about iconnet's genuinely tailored 'blank slate' approach. 'Although it was their first time on this kind of app, their standing with organisations such as Unilever, and their fresh approach was reassuring.'
The Marketing Gloucester team immediately liked iconnet's focused approach and the digital agency's willingness to walk all three tour routes and take in the city's history while designing the apps. 'It really helped them understand the patchwork nature of our fast developing city,' says Hau as he recalls the process, 'an outsider would find that much harder.'
iconnet began work and soon impressed Marketing Gloucester and the City Council with the quality of their first build and the thought behind it - including thorough testing of 3G and Wi-Fi coverage and signal strengths so the walks were properly covered.
Hau explains: 'Caroline Ansell, Gloucester's conservation projects officer, and I were impressed by what iconnet achieved with their first shot at the app - including its impressively low data demands, which will help visitors who use roaming mobile-data. We then showed the app to our heritage and tourism partners and got a 100 per cent positive response. It was the same when local history buffs vetted the app. All we made were a few minor amends.'
But this is the real world, so surely there were some hiccups along the way? Not, it seems on iconnet's side. With characteristic openness, Ben Hau admits that the only 'glitches' were a few delays caused by Marketing Gloucester's constant busyness: 'iconnet were exceptionally flexible and patient when pressures on our small organisation meant the original production schedule slipped by a few days.'
When discussing the app's benefits, Hau mentions the tourism 'Holy Grail' of longer dwell times in the city's centre. Rather than see tour groups dropped off at the cathedral and picked up an hour later, the app will encourage visitors to spend more time exploring the city's fascinating corners - and its wealth of shopping, refreshment, accommodation and other attractions. 'It isn't just for tourists either, as we're also promoting the city's attractions to locals. iconnet's work will help them learn more about what's on their doorstep.'
It's a time of significant year-on-year growth for Gloucester tourism and the app will help to sustain this. 'We have so many interesting buildings, a fascinating history and a wealth of facts to wow visitors and locals' says Hau. 'For instance, our amazing links with the USA include the fact that John Stafford-Smith, composer of the music for the US national anthem, was a chorister at Gloucester cathedral and is buried here.'
This is just one story that the new app helps to communicate to a wider audience of visitors and locals. As Ben Hau explains: 'Our job is to reveal stories to visitors and iconnet have played a major part in this.'
Would Hau and his colleagues recommend their app-development partner? The answer's an unequivocal 'yes, and we'd recommend them to other similar tourism organisations in Gloucester and beyond. Being local was a bonus for us, but I'm sure their approach would work for other tourist attractions, towns and cities, museums and heritage sites beyond Gloucestershire.'
As Gloucester works to improve on the three million people who visited Gloucester Quays in 2013, the 6.9 per cent increase in tourism between 2012 and 2014, and the gross value added by each visitor, iconnet's app is a key asset in the city's marketing toolkit.
Ben Hau sums up the partnership with iconnet as follows: 'It was a very pleasant and successful collaboration as we developed the new app from the ground up.'
Designing the new app, it's clear, wasn't just a walk in the park, but a genuinely good work that's made life easier for Marketing Gloucester, and enhanced Gloucester's appeal for tourists and local folk alike.