David Penn and Charles Krallman, co-creators of the BVI Now app, demonstrate how it works to reporters and BVI Tourist Board Public Relations Manager Keith Dawson during a press conference last week. (Photo: CLAIRE SHEFCHIK)

A few months ago, David Penn found a stranger in front of his house looking for the law firm Mourant Ozannes.

Although Mr. Penn informed him he had arrived at a private residence, the man wouldn’t take no for an answer, insisting that Google Maps showed the firm was located there.

Mr. Penn pointed out that particularly after Hurricane Irma, visitors and residents alike have suffered from a lack of correct maps and clear information about how to navigate the territory.

Now he has launched an idea that he hopes could help change that. He’s partnered with Charles Krallman, CEO of NanoSurvey, and the BVI Tourist Board to design, build and launch BVI Now, an app available for free download on both the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store that aims to provide an up-to-date listing of Virgin Islands businesses, with verified locations and current contact details.

The goal is to be the go-to source for tourists and residents alike to find accurate information.

“I’ve lived here for a long time and saw the problem and thought technology could solve the problems in one fell swoop,” Mr. Krallman said.

Over months of mapping out tourist-related businesses in the territory, he added, he developed the app with technology used by large retail
chains abroad.

“Google Maps still shows the Bat Cave [Bar] located in Road Town, but it’s been gone for years,” he said during a press conference last week. “There is also no comprehensive directory of our tourist businesses, with up-to-date contact information and hours of operation.”

Mr. Penn, the executive liaison for the app team, noted that in the absence of a reliable telephone directory, people have to turn to Facebook community boards or Google to find the information they seek.

“How do you find what is where? How do you find services? Do they exist?” he asked.

Many small businesses have no digital footprint, he pointed out, making them difficult to find without local knowledge.

But with every business in the VI entitled to a free listing on the app, they may see increased traffic without having to advertise.

“One of the failings [of other directories] is they don’t allow the business themselves access to the info,” Mr. Krallman said.

However, each business on the BVI Now app will be able to log in and add or change information in real time.

“It will always be kept up to date,” he said.

Mr. Penn called the app “transformational” to the territory.

“We should be proud as BVIslanders to know that this app was not created in Silicon Valley,” he said, adding, “It was created right here.”

No data needed

Unlike Google and many other directories, the app works without a data plan or a phone signal once it has been downloaded.

“Most tourists in the BVI don’t have mobile service data plans,” Mr. Krallman said.

He demonstrated on a screen behind him how the app knew — using various sensors built into the hardware of the phone — that he was located in the Central Administration Building.

“It knows which area of town I’m in and it can even know which room I’m in within a building, and it’s doing all of this without a data plan,” he said.

The app provides insider tips and information to help people enjoy their visit more. For instance, if a user indicates they’re looking for a “quiet beach,” the app will direct them to, for instance, Brewers Bay and tell them exactly how to get there.

“When our guests are near a place of interest, they are automatically notified with information about that place,” Mr. Krallman said.

He added that the next step would be to place wi-fi stations in strategic locations around the territory to make it easier to download the app, which is “privacy compliant” and doesn’t ask for or retain users’ names, emails or phone numbers.

Government support

Premier Andrew Fahie said in a press release that he believes the app will “enhance our guests’ experience, whether they are visiting for a day, a week, or longer. We also believe people who live and work in the BVI will find it to be an indispensable tool.”

The BVI Tourist Board has lent its support to help market the app, which BVITB Public Relations Officer Keith Dawson called “the Yellow Pages on steroids.”

Mr. Dawson added, “We see it as a very innovative tool, and we are excited about that.”