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Gowalla On Disney Partnership: "We're not about coupons"

gowalla disney pins
Image courtesy Gowalla
These are some of the pins that Gowalla users will be able to collect when they check in at Disney locations.

Austin-based Gowalla announced this morning that it's teaming up with Disney Parks to create a bunch of unique Disney themed locations for the social networking service.

Gowalla is an app that runs on smartphones and allows people to "check in" when they visit any location, from a restaurant, to a park, to a long line at a movie theater. Anyone can create locations, but some are custom made by Gowalla and have their own unique symbol. Checking in earns you a stamp on your virtual Gowalla passport.  Users can also earn pins and various other digital rewards.

KUT News called Gowalla today to talk about the new deal. We spoke with Andy Ellwood, their director of business development.

KUT News: You guys had a big announcement today. Can you tell me about it?

Andy Ellwood: We announced a partnership with Disney Parks and the most comprehensive and broad sweeping campaign that's ever been run by a brand with a location-based service.

KUT News: What is that going to mean for users?

Ellwood: Disney Parks really came to embrace the idea that Gowalla is putting out there that checking into locations is fun when you can capture the experiences that you have. The 2011 campaign that Disney is rolling with is all about capturing the memories you have when you're at the parks. Gowalla was brought in as a partner on that campaign specifically around the ideas of capturing the experiences that you have around the places that you go.

If you've been to Disney, like I have, you know there are so many things that you do in a day that sometimes you forget all the things that you've done and all the places you went because it just all runs together. One of the great things about Gowalla is not only does it allow you to discover new places around you and share those with your friends, but you also have a record of the memories that you've created. That was something that attracted Disney to Gowalla, and was the main purpose and the big idea that we've been working with as we partnered with them over the past few months.

KUT News: Disney could have chosen a number of location-based check in services for their parks. What gave you the edge?

Ellwood: I think that with the emergence of Facebook places and their deals [service], they've really emerged as the leader in the coupon, discounts and deal space, and have overshadowed groups like Foursquare, Whrrl, Loopt, or even SCVNGR. Those groups have been built around the idea that if you give us your location, we'll give you a discount or a coupon.

Gowalla really isn't about the discount, deals and coupons. It's about the experiences that you have around the places that you go. It's a very different perspective when you think about it. I use my Gowalla Passport to tell the story of what my day looks like, from the everyday places I go, the coffee shop, the bar or the restaurant, or just even the office. To the extraordinary places that I go, whether it's on vacation or a trip to Disney World.

That's kind of the way we think about things. It's all about creating experiences around the places that you go, besides the narcissistic, "I'm here right now and you should care," check in.

KUT News: Your deal is with all Disney Parks. Does that include those in other countries?

Ellwood: The ones in other countries will be coming online, fingers crossed, in the not too distant future.

KUT News: How does this deal fit into Gowalla's overall strategy?

Ellwood: The purpose of Gowalla is to inspire people to go, and the partners who also have a similar idea of, "Let's get people off their couch. Let's get people to go out and do something that they would not otherwise do," is a common thread that runs through all the partnerships that we're doing.

Whether it's a retail store that's giving people a new reason or a new way for people to experience the store, or it's an attraction like a Disney, or it's a book store that's doing cool things with the authors they have coming by. All the opportunities that we're looking at are about inspiring people to go, to discover the world around them, share it with their friends, and then as we've talked about, have a record of the places they've been.

Nathan Bernier is the transportation reporter at KUT. He covers the big projects that are reshaping how we get around Austin, like the I-35 overhaul, the airport's rapid growth and the multibillion-dollar transit expansion Project Connect. He also focuses on the daily changes that affect how we walk, bike and drive around the city. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on X @KUTnathan.