Working Smarter

The San Diego Convention Center’s Built-In Beacons

The potential of beacons was one of the most talked-about topics at the 2013 PCMA Technology Think Tank, held in Vancouver last August.

More than a year later, discussion around beacon technology in the meetings industry remains mostly about its promise, with actual examples of conferences and trade shows that have used the technology still rare. One of them is the 2014 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), which got a flurry of attention from bloggers this past January when it used nine beacons to lead attendees on a scavenger-hunt-style path through its show floor at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

In San Diego, Erik Bjontegard, founder and president of Total Communicator Solutions Inc., is partnering with the San Diego Convention Center Corporation (SDCCC) on a pilot project that’s expected to make beacons more widespread at meetings. The installation of several hundred beacons at the San Diego Convention Center has made it one of the first — if not the first — meeting venues to integrate beacon technology into its infrastructure, making it available to all groups that meet there.

The platform will give planners all of the advantages of beacon technology without the hassle or expense of installing the network themselves, according to Bjontegard. “Show managers don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” he said.

Once the test is complete, SDCCC and Total Communicator Solutions plan to offer a beacon platform tailor-made for meetings available to other convention centers, Bjontegard said.

While the beacons can be used to interact with users of the San Diego Convention Center’s app, the platform’s architecture is designed so it can be integrated with other apps, including those developed by meeting organizers, said Bjontegard, formerly the senior director of business development at Qualcomm, the mobile-technology company. The beacons not only send targeted messages to attendees, but also collect data about their behavior.

The network also will include beacons in San Diego locations outside the convention center, such as establishments in the nearby Gaslamp Quarter dining and entertainment district. As attendees walk through the district, they will receive offers based on the time and place and their individual preferences from participating restaurants and establishments.

One of the things that sets his company apart, Bjontegard said, is that it positions beacons as part of a communication network that could be extended throughout an entire city. “Part of a successful convention is the overall experience for the attendees in the community,” he said.

Because the network is still in the testing stage, Bjontegard could offer only a general — but intriguing — report about the experience of clients who have used the beacon technology. In one case, “over 70 percent of messages [sent],” he said, “were opened and acted on.”

Barbara Palmer

Barbara Palmer is senior editor of Convene.