Visitors bureau wins tourism award
The Fairfield Iowa Convention and Visitors Bureau received an award from the Iowa Tourism Office for its smart phone “app.”
The visitors bureau was one of two local entities to be honored by the Iowa Tourism Office and Travel Federation of Iowa at the 2013 Iowa Tourism Conference Oct. 17 in Des Moines. The other was the American Gothic House Center, which received an award for “outstanding tourism experience.”
The visitors bureau launched an app in May that provides information about all sorts of Fairfield amenities such as hotels, restaurants, shopping, special events and more. The staff at the visitors bureau believe Fairfield is the only city in Iowa that has its own smartphone app. Visitors bureau executive director Rustin Lippincott said he believes that is what propelled Fairfield to the head of the line in the judges’ minds.
“It’s quite an honor to be recognized by our peers,” said Lippincott. “Since 2007, I made a commitment to be cutting edge. Fairfield decided to be outside the box.”
Fairfield won in the category of “social media.” Entries are divided into two divisions, rural and metro. The visitors bureau competed against other entries in the rural division. Metro entries are those from a city of 20,000 people or more, and rural entries are those from cities of fewer than 20,000 people. The Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines won the social media award in the metro division.
Assistant director of the visitors bureau, Terry Baker, said the visitors bureau had to complete an application for the award in which the staff detailed how the app has impacted tourism.
Baker said the big push behind launching the app in the summer was that it would coincide with the arrival of RAGBRAI on July 26. The app allowed RAGBRAI riders to find their campgrounds and find just about anything else they could possibly need in town. It informed the riders of the best routes to take to get from point A to point B.
The app is great for people who are visiting Fairfield, but it’s just as useful for natives. Baker said it acts like a telephone book. Users can find a restaurant, see its hours and place an order over the phone just by selecting its name. And restaurants are just one of many services the app will find. It contains a directory of gas stations, ATMs, Laundromats and health clinics.
One neat feature of the app is that it allows users to “tag” their location on a map, which is helpful for visitors who park their car and walk around town. To remember where they parked, they open the Fairfield app and it shows them on the map. Baker said it was useful for the RAGBRAI riders when they needed to return to their tents for the night.
Those who are visiting Fairfield and planning to stay for just one day might change their mind after learning about all there is to do in town. Users may find a show they’d like to see, and can buy tickets to it through the app.
“It’s kind of like holding Fairfield in the palm of your hand,” Baker said.
American Gothic House Center
The American Gothic House Center won the rural division prize for outstanding tourism experience. Holly Berg, director of the center, said she was pleasantly surprised when her name was called to receive the trophy. She said the award is a reflection of the ways in which the center has striven to create a better and better experience each time someone visits the museum.
In her nomination papers, Berg wrote about how the museum has grown since it began six years ago. The museum is a voice for the history of the American Gothic House.
The museum features exhibits and videos that tell about how the American Gothic House came to be one of the most recognizable homes through its inclusion in a painting by Grant Wood. The center has clothes, and a pitchfork, for attendees to use so they look just like the farming couple pictured in the painting.
Berg is the only full-time employee at the center. The center relies heavily on volunteers. Thirty people donate their time during the course of a year to keep the museum open seven days a week.
Berg wanted to make visiting the center as much fun as possible, even to people who visited it after office hours. About 1.5 years ago, the center added an outdoor exhibit, so people could learn about the America Gothic House’s history all hours of the day. The center also rotates its indoor exhibit every year to provide visitors a new experience one year after another.