38 million travelers fly out of Orlando International Airport each year. Many of these passengers are families on a trip to Disney World, and don’t regularly fly through Orlando, says John Newsome, director of information technology at Greater Orlando Aviation Authority.

And so, the most common questions travelers ask at the information desk at the Orlando International Airport are about how to get to where they need to go in the airport, he says.

To help travelers navigate their way between terminals, to baggage claim or out to ground transportation, the airport launched an app and deployed 1,200 beacon sensors in December 2014, Newsome says. Beacons are small pieces of hardware about the size of a deck of cards that can determine a traveler’s location via Bluetooth. That enables an organization, such as the airport authority, to send information to an individual based on her location. In order for beacons to work, a traveler has download either the iOS or Android Orlando International Airport app and turn on the Bluetooth feature on her smartphone.

Orlando International’s app offers a detailed map of the airport, including the names of restaurants, stores and gate numbers. When consumers open the map they can type in any place in the airport, such as their gate number, American Airlines or taxi. The app can calculate the distance the smartphone is from the nearest beacon and then place the traveler on the map with a blue dot.

Since travelers may be typing in a place that has multiple results, such as taxi locations, the map will list all of the options and a consumer can pick which destination she wants. The app recognizes 1,600 destinations, Newsome says. Once a traveler selects a destination, she receives step-by-step directions to get there and a blue line shows the path on the map.

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The Bluetooth beacons can determine a traveler’s location within about 5 to 15 feet, and is much more accurate than using Wi-Fi to determine where a traveler is, Newsome says. Initially, the airport wanted to use its 1,000 Wi-Fi access points around the airport to fix a traveler’s location and offer directions, Newsome says. The airport already had a robust Wi-Fi system because it needed it for its staff operations, so it made sense to just use the technology already in place, Newsome says.

However, a test early 2014 showed that a Wi-Fi determination could be  30 to 50 feet off of an individual’s actual location. The airport discovered the Wi-Fi access point’s strength varies by how many consumers are using it. The airport tested using Wi-Fi for map wayfinding for a few months before it decided to try out beacons, Newsome says.

The airport uses mobile technology vendor Aruba Networks Inc. for its Wi-Fi access points. The airport already had Aruba under contract to develop its app in 2014 when the airport was testing a direction-providing app via Wi-Fi. Once the airport decided against using Wi-Fi, Aruba suggested using beacons and shipped its first batch to the airport in October 2014. After a successful testing period, Orlando International Airport launched its app and had all of the beacons deployed in December 2014. The app development and beacon deployment cost about $500,000 in total, and the airport pays a small annual fee to Aruba to host the beacon technology, Newsome says.

A year later, the app has 27,000 downloads and almost everyone who has downloaded the app has used it to get directions, Newsome says. But Orlando International would like more travelers to download the app. The airport displays signs encouraging travelers to download the app for its mapping features, but Newsome isn’t sure that this is the best approach.

“If you are at the airport, are you going to take the time to download it or take it for the trial run? Chances are you are in the hurry and you won’t,” Newsome says.

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Recognizing that many travelers won’t take the time to download an app when they’re trying to figure out where to go in an airport, Newsome hopes to develop a new advertising campaign that will target travelers the airport knows will be flying to Orlando soon. He aims to work with Orlando’s large convention center, Orange County Convention Center, and with Orlando’s tourism department to identify travelers who will be passing through the airport soon.

Another barrier to getting more travelers to use the app is that they are likely only going to use the app once. Travelers that often fly out of the Orlando International Airport are familiar with the grounds, and don’t need the wayfinding feature, he says. And so, the app will soon have other features designed to appeal to frequent Orlando Airport flyers, such as a providing information on how long the wait time is for the security check, Newsome says. The airport will use beacons and video analytics to determine wait times.

Newsome also is considering using the beacons to send alerts to a traveler’s smartphone when she walks by them. For example, could send her a message advertising the restaurant she is walking past. Since all of the airport’s concessions pay a percentage of their sales to the airport, if their revenue increases, so does the airport’s revenue, Newsome says. However, Newsome is unsure if he wants to bombard customers with ads and has not put that idea into action yet.

The return on the beacon investment is customer satisfaction, Newsome says. Airport officials hope having beacons provide directions will reduce stress for travelers, so they can start or finish their vacation on a good note, he says. Though customer satisfaction is one of four major goals the airport, and drives a lot of the airport’s investment, it is hard to measure except through customer surveys, Newsome says.

“There’s not a direct metric,” he says. “We’re happy if we have a happy customer.”

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