Both Tim Hughes and Norm Rose have recently written about the emergence of mobile as an emerging distribution channel for travel (check previous Tnooz post Augmented Reality, mobile, search and (maybe) getting it wrong).
I completely agree, but from a very different context.
While the big players like Expedia and Air Canada are jumping on and creating iPhone and Blackberry applications to sell last minute hotels and speed up check-ins, I think the real opportunity exists for destinations and local in-market attractions and tours.
Viator recently announced that they were planning the launch of an iPhone app in fourth quarter 2009.
I am presuming that the application will allow travellers to purchase vouchers for things to do activities in destination.
I think this is where the opportunity exists for destinations as well.
While Viator may have the advantage in terms of being first out of the gate, destinations will have a clear advantage in terms of local penetration and brand awareness.
Imagine the ‚ÄúCoolsville Tourist Centre‚ÄĚ iPhone app which has all the contact information for every hotel, b&b, tour, attraction, restaurant, etc. in the Coolsville area.
Now imagine that app with the ability to book those products in real-time or make a reservation in real-time.
In this case, technology is the least difficult piece of the puzzle, after all there are iPhone developers making all kinds of applications out there that are much more challenging.
The real challenge with this strategy is supplier acceptance and sourcing content, both of which have ALREADY been done by the DMO (for the most part).
The destinations already have all the contact data for their their members and, because they are generally funded by tax revenues, have an obligation to promote all forms of tourism related businesses in their region.
By default, most DMOs have the supplier acquisition process sewn up, something most private companies have a very hard time doing.
The difference though between these applications and one that could be delivered by a DMO is the impartiality and depth of the content.
In Tripwolf’s case, the content is primarily user generated and so the breadth and quality of the content is relatively low.
In the Vancouver guide, as an example, there were only nine restaurants listed.¬† I can look out my window and see more than 9 restaurants within a two block radius of my office.
In the case of Lonely Planet, the content is prepared and vetted by a professional team of writers, so the quality is generally high, but again, the focus is on premiere restaurants, hotspots, and attractions.
The benefit of a public tourist information source like a DMO is that every business gets equal opportunity at being listed.¬† The TourismVancouver restaurant list includes over 283 establishments just in the Vancouver area. Compare that to TripWolf’s nine and Lonely Planet’s 83.
Now load that into an iPhone app along with OpenTable reservations and you’ve got something big.
So why hasn’t this been done already?
It’s a paradigm shift away from tourist offices and kiosks, which is what most DMOs are used to managing.
From a technical standpoint, the basic technologies already exist in the marketplace.¬† In many cases, the systems are closed and proprietary or they are extremely expensive.
Some systems, however, are beginning to use open XML connectors and OpenTravel based standards in order to support multi-channel distribution.
I urge destinations to seriously consider the opportunities that exist for them in the local mobile space and to move quickly on them.
If DMOs expect to remain relevant and valuable to their stakeholders, they need to look at technologies like mobile as a way of extending their brands to in-destination visitors and driving business to local businesses well beyond just pre-trip inspiration.