Consumers creating virtual postcards via kiosks

Hotels and destination spots throughout the world are getting on board with Send A Message Inc., a company that has designed kiosks to allow users to create and send virtual postcards using their own photos.

The company may only be a year old, but the concept is already catching on, said, Kristen Tsitoukis, the woman behind Send A Message (SAM) kiosks. Users not only create custom-designed postcards from the machines, but they can also print out hard copies or send them virtually via email and text message or post them directly to Facebook.

"It takes vacation photos to a whole new level, providing guests the unique opportunity to create photo postcards with their own personal media in just minutes," Tsitoukis said.

How it works
A guest inserts her memory card from her camera into the kiosk and follows a set of directions on the touchscreen that walks her through the process.

She may also choose from stock photos, housed in the kiosk, based on the locale. For example, a unit at Sea World may include photos of dolphins.

Tsitoukis spent nearly 15 years as the director of operations for a major hotel chain before launching Send A Message Inc. last year. She partnered with Avnet Embedded, a distributor of electronic components, computer products and embedded technology, for her hardware needs.

It was a perfect pairing, according to Joe Fijak, Avnet's vice president of Display Solutions, who said Avnet rarely needs to create custom components for the companies it assists.

"In this instance, ELO Touch Systems has a great touchscreen solution that fit the needs of SAM perfectly," Fijak said. "SAM has a great customer base, and this was an opportunity for us to provide our technical and integration capabilities to SAM on a variable-cost model, allowing them to divert their energy towards expanding their customer base."

Avnet's integration services allowed for the quick build and delivery of the kiosks to Panama as well as to Holland America's Cruise Ship, the Eurodam, Tsitoukis said.

The company also introduced Tsitoukis to Meridian Zero Degrees, another kiosk manufacturer that provided the company with hardware components.

"We know a self-service project is going to be successful when it is good for both user and deployer," said Sheridan Orr of Meridian. "That is definitely the case with SAM. They have an excellent user interface that allows people to create unique mementos. Cruise lines, events and venues can generate revenue and provide additional services to guests."

The SAM kiosks are already in the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown in Pennsylvania and the Renaissance Orlando at Sea World in Florida. And the company will soon deploy them in a "very high-profile night club, on Broadway, in several other vacation destination resorts, as well as catering venues geared toward weddings and celebrations," Tsitoukis said.

She's also shipping several to Asia next week and is working with the United Kingdom Trade & Investment for placement in time for the 2012 Olympic Games.

Marketing Opportunities
Tsitoukis said the SAM kiosks not only help retailers by providing a great consumer experience, their digital-signage capabilities also serve as advertising platforms. Targeted message can run at specific times of the day, and ads can run as videos or slide shows, she said.

Although Tsitoukis couldn't give cost figures for the SAM kiosks, she said the company offers a few different programs that include buying or leasing options.

"It is very affordable for the properties," she said.

Taking kiosks to the EDGE
The SAM kiosks aren't the only self-service unit Tsitoukis has up her sleeve. Although they're only about a year old, Tsitoukis recently launched a concierge kiosk called the Lobby Edge. The touchscreen kiosk allows guests to find restaurants, local events and access their flight information.

What makes it different from other concierge kiosks, said Tsitoukis, is that it's environmentally friendly, giving users the option to deliver the information straight to their mobile phones or email accounts, rather than printing it.

"And it was designed by people in the hospitality industry with the guest needs (in mind) first," she said.

The Lobby EDGE kiosks are already in hotels in Philadelphia and Virginia with more planned for Baltimore, New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Newark, N.J.

Avnet is again covering Tsitoukis' hardware needs.

As SAM continues to grow, the relationship between it and Avnet Embedded does, too. "I plan on using Avnet for the entire life of our company," said Tsitoukis. "Not only are they are our embedded provider, but they are integral to our continued success."

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