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Phila. tours? There's now an app for that

To get visitors out and about in the city, tourism and convention officials are taking the interactive approach.

On Monday, Philadelphia becomes the first city worldwide to showcase its attractions via SCVNGR (pronounced scavenger) and its Find Your Philly? mobile application.

The app features five tours, or "treks," focusing on the city's history, arts and culture, sciences, and multicultural aspects, as well as the expanded Convention Center, due to open in March.

How to Find Your Philly?

Download the free SCVNGR application for iPhone and Android.

Tap the "TREKS" tab.

Pick a trek.

Go places. Undertake challenges. Earn points, and see how you fare against others.

"It's about doing challenges on the places you visit right from your mobile phone," said SCVNGR's chief operating officer, Michael Hagan. "It's part informational and part fun."

Hagan, a self-described "serial tech entrepreneur," who just turned 30 and graduated summa cum laude from Drexel University's Information Systems and Technology School, helped form SCVNGR two years ago.

The firm took shape at Princeton University, and in 2008, it incubated at Dream It Ventures, a start-up space at the University City Science Center. That is where Hagan met Seth Priebatsch, a Princeton dropout and SCVNGR's chief executive officer.

The company, which now employs 61, quickly caught investors' attention. In November 2008, Highland Capital Partners Inc. sunk roughly $1 million into it, and in December, Google Ventures invested an additional $4 million to enable the SCVNGR team to turn cities worldwide into live game boards for exploration.

Philadelphia is the first such city.

Up to now, Hagan said, SCVNGR was best known for tours, orientations, and team-building exercises in museums, universities, and businesses across the country.

"Philadelphia will serve as the model for how other cities will expand on SCVNGR around the country and the globe," he said.

Said Jack Ferguson, executive vice president of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau, which books the Convention Center: "Philadelphia is once again taking the lead in offering cutting-edge technology . . . to improve the visitor experience, and it will take that experience to greater heights."

Plus, there is one not-so-cutting edge that Philadelphia has over many other tourist destinations that the SCVNGR connection will help spotlight.

"The Find Your Philly? mobile application further highlights Philadelphia's broad appeal as an exciting walkable city," Mayor Nutter said.

Ferguson and Nutter will be among those presenting the technology at 12:30 p.m. Monday at the Independence Visitor Center's Internet Cafe at Sixth and Market Streets.

Dozens of groups have partnered with local tourism and convention agencies to promote it, including the Center City District, African American Museum in Philadelphia, Philadelphia Chinatown Development, and several other cultural and arts alliances.

All are working toward a common goal, said James Cuorato, president and CEO of the Independence Visitor Center Corp.: "Bringing people to Philadelphia and showcasing our attractions, history, and culture to visitors in a fun and unique way."

According to a report last month by the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corp., 36 million domestic travelers visited the Philadelphia area last year, and more than 80 percent of them were leisure travelers - people who chose to come here for fun.

Find Your Philly? will open the city to a broader audience, Hagan said.

"Philly's a terrific example to show cities how they can be more interactive and engaging with their tourists, and locals, using a mobile device, which has become an appendage for most people," he said.

A key feature of the app is that its Convention Center trek connects the expanded facility with the rest of the city, said Ahmeenah Young, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority.

That trek includes views of the $2 million art collection that will be displayed through the enlarged Convention Center, a Wall of Fame of all the famous people that have come through Philadelphia, a history of the site's original Reading Railroad tracks and the terminal's Grand Hall, and a navigated tour of the $786 million expansion and what it entails, including the largest ballroom on the East Coast.

Young said: "It is definitely a wow moment for Philadelphia."

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Kristen Fitch

Senior Director, Marketing