Checking into the Aqua Palms Resort & Spa

Checking in to the Aqua Palms Resort & SpaI recently returned from a trip to Hawaii with my girlfriend Sheryl. Her and I traveled there for her spring break and spent seven nights and eight days traveling around the islands, seeing LOST filming locations, visiting as many beaches as we could, and simply enjoying the simple life that is Hawaii. We had a great trip, took tons of pictures, and even managed to meet some of the actors from our favorite television show LOST. The trip was perfect, as was the weather, and we will be returning there very soon for more sightseeing and sun bathing.

But, while we were there, I had the chance to experience the Hawaiian culture and to see how they use social media tools like Twitter, foursquare, and Gowalla. In the months leading to our trip, Sheryl and I became friends with, Ryan Ozawa, the guy who runs the Twitter account @hawaii. We found him just searching through Twitter trying to learn more about the islands and the culture to expect there. It did not take long before we came across Ryan’s account. Funny thing about Ryan is that he is a huge LOST fan like us. He actually runs a website called LOST Locations and a podcast with his wife called Transmission. Ryan is a geek when it comes to social media services like foursquare and Gowalla and actually invited us to a gathering of Gowalla users while we were on the island.

When we first got to our hotel, being addicted to these location based services like I am, I checked into our hotel on both foursquare and Gowalla. We stayed at the Aqua Palms Resort and Spa right across the street from the Hilton Hawaiian Village. We were within walking distance from the beach and not far from all of the shops and restaurants that make Waikiki famous. During the week I used foursquare and Gowalla religiously checking in everywhere we went. I even managed to make some online friends while I was there through these services. But, before I get too far into this I want to explain to you what foursquare is and how it works. (Gowalla is very similar to foursquare but the point of this blog post revolves around an incentive provided through foursquare.)

The location-based service foursquare is a service that allows you to check in when you go places. The service starts with you creating an account online and then utilizes the global positioning system on your smart phone (iPhone, Blackberry, Droid, etc.) to locate where you are and the locations around you. Then, once you arrive at your destination, you can check in to that location. You can link it to your Twitter and Facebook pages as well letting all of your friends know where you are.

Once you check in to that location the service will show you present until you check in somewhere else. Now, this is where the fun stuff begins. Once you have checked in, the service will tell you not only who else is there off of your friend’s list, but also will show you tweets from around the area, provide you with more detailed information about that actual location, and even show you a Google map of where you are. But what if the location you are trying to check into does not exist? You can add that location right from your phone! When you add a new location you enter the name of the location, the address (if applicable) and the category in which that location falls under. If you do not have the actual address with you note that you can go back, online, and add it at a later date and time. So, if you go to Chili’s Restaurant for example, you will want to put that into the food category under American food.

Once you add a new location you are rewarded five bonus points for adding the new location. What are these points good for? Glad you asked! Points are used to tally weekly and monthly leader boards between you and your friends as well as the service all-together. All of this is location based and you can see your current standings in the city that you are in. So when Sheryl and I checked into places in Honolulu, we were able to see where we stood compared to other Hawaiians using this service.  Foursquare also has a game that unlocks badges for accomplishing certain things while checking into multiple locations.

For instance, if you check in with a location that is tagged (you can add unique descriptor tags on the website such as, “food and beverage”, “alcohol”, “bar”, “restaurant”, etc.) with a certain keyword, you can unlock a badge pertaining to that location. We, while visiting Pearl Harbor and traveling to the USS Arizona, checking into the boat that we were on. That boat had been tagged with the keyword; “boat” and when we checked in we unlocked the, “I’m on a Boat” badge. Other badges include the “Swarm” badge (checking in with fifty other people at the same place at the same time) or the “Super Mayor” badge (where you hold ten or more mayor ships at the same time.)

Becoming the mayor of a location is simple. The first step is to check in to that location once. Then, after twenty-four hours and you have revisited the same location, and check in again. If you have now checked in more than anyone else at that exact location you will become the mayor. So, for instance, I am the mayor of my office building. I have checked in there over fifty times in the last few months and no one else in my office has checked in as many times. This is fun to see how many mayor ships that you can rack up, but at the same time this is a key element to the businesses that are on these services.

I am the mayor of Scotty’s Brewhouse here in Indianapolis. I am the mayor of the 96th street location and every time I go there, check in, and can prove that I am the mayor, I am rewarded with a 10% discount for being the mayor. Scotty’s Brewhouse runs an incentive by giving the mayor that discount. It forces me to want to return to Scotty’s to maintain my mayor ship but at the same time it gives users a reason to use this service.

Another place that gives us a reason to use this service was the hotel that I stayed at while on vacation. When I first arrived to the hotel and checked in I saw that Amanda S. was the mayor of the Aqua Palms Resort and Spa. I figured that she was just someone like me who had checked in every time she came and went from her hotel. So, all week I was checking in and managed to check in some fifteen or twenty times before I realized she must work for the hotel to still be the mayor! I would soon find out that she did in fact work for the hotel.

I found out when I finally did become the mayor of the hotel. I got a direct message on Twitter, as my foursquare check ins are linked to my Twitter feed, saying congratulations and that I could stop by the front desk to receive a free gift for becoming the mayor of the hotel. I thanked her for the attention to detail, her speed in which she replied to my check in, and acknowledged the fact that they are actually using this service the way it was intended. They gave me an incentive to check in every time I arrived back to the hotel.

We actually began chatting a little bit on Twitter as the rest of the week went on. I was going to wait until I checked out to pick up my gift and had no idea what to expect. I assumed it was a box of chocolates or some macadamia nuts or something native to the island. So I thought nothing of it past that and waited until the trip wound down and it was time to check out.

Our flight left at midnight that Saturday so we decided to check out early and walk around Waikiki one last time before we left. When I got to the desk and checked out, the gentleman helping me asked for me to wait one second while he grabbed something for me. When he returned he congratulated me on becoming the mayor of the hotel, thanked me for using the service, and handed me a very nice robe that had the Aqua Palms Resort and Spa logo embroidered on the side. There was also a hand written thank you card attached that thanked me for staying at the Aqua Palms and for using foursquare during my stay.

What this does is not only prove that people are using this service for the way that it was meant to be used, but that using a social service like this is benefiting more than just the businesses. I was so impressed by this, as well as what Scotty’s Brewhouse is doing, that I decided to not only thank them time and time again for paying so close attention to the service but decided to share this story with you.

There are a lot of people out there that doubt these location-based services. There is fear of people knowing where you are, or the fear of sharing too much personal information with the World Wide Web. But to those who doubt these services, I respect your decision, and understand that you will not be able to benefit as I have from these incentives. I am not the first to have said it, but location based search and services like this are the wave of the future. Scotty’s Brewhouse gets it. The Aqua Palms Resort and Spa gets it.

If you are not using these services it is time to reconsider and accept the benefits that come from simply being a social being. So to the folks at the Aqua Palms Resort and Spa, thank you for making our trip not only a memorable one from the quality of the room and the service that was provided, but thank you for being a thought leader in the tools that are available to you.