NB: This is a guest article by David Poteet, president of Nomad Mobile Guides, a mobile platform provider of mobile websites and native apps for destinations.
I am always intrigued how tourism organisations that aren’t clients are approaching their mobile strategy, so was interested to hear how one in particular has found its native application performs five times better than its mobile site.
First of all, Visit Denver is proving the impact of a mobile strategy that includes both a mobile website and native apps.
Justin Bresler, VP of marketing and business development for Visit Denver, gave details of the organisation’s results in a panel presentation at the Destination Marketing Association International (DMAI) annual conference in New Orleans this past July.
He and fellow speaker David West, VP of marketing and sales with the Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau, debated the merits of creating native mobile apps for a destination or just launching a good mobile-optimized website.
This mobile apps versus website debate is a hot topic among destination marketing organizations this year. You will commonly hear people in the industry saying that a HTML5 mobile website is just as good as a native app, and much cheaper to maintain.
According to Bresler, Visit Denver made its decision to publish a mobile website plus native app based on the data they saw, both in terms of its own website traffic and the trends in consumer behavior in mobile.
The team at Visit Denver looked at the rapid growth in mobile traffic to Denver.org, growing over 250% from 2009 to reach 136,551 visits in 2010. In the first six months of 2011 that number has grown to 240,458, on pace to more than quadruple 2010′s traffic. iOS and Android devices dominate, accounting for 95% of all mobile traffic.
So why not just create a good mobile website?
“To me the decision to do an app before a mobile website was very very easy, because I knew that in the iPhone community, these were people that had embraced a seamless mobile browsing experience, who had bought into apps, and at the time that we developed ours in early 2010, the app downloads were going off the charts.
“There’s been an interesting debate on whether or not apps have a shelf-life – I have yet to see a number that says that app downloads have been decreasing.”
“That being said, we built a mobile website as well. We just knew what we wanted to do first. iPhone, then Android second, then we came out with a mobile website. The point is that it was supported by the market share numbers that we saw coming to our website.”
Marketing your mobile presence
Several panelists pointed out the importance of marketing your mobile website and apps.
Danielle Cohn, VP of marketing and communications for the Philadelphia CVB, says:
“If you build these tools without a marketing budget in mind… then you’re doing the tools and the destination a disservice. And you can leverage your website – we’re putting our QR code for our app that’s in the iTunes store on the visitors guide, and on screens in the airport.
“We, obviously as DMOs, have a lot of access to those resources that are a little bit more affordable.”
The Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau has chosen to focus on a mobile website backed by a traditional advertising campaign. Rail commuters in the New York area see signs inviting them to scan a QR code or “Text Poconos to 77950.”
The QR code links to a video about Pocono skiing with the ability to sign up for deal offers. Over 2,000 people signed up to receive weekly special offers via text message last winter.
The Philadelphia CVB launched a native iPad version of its visitor guide at the end of April and has had over 3,500 downloads in just under three months. The app runs on the same Adobe platform behind magazine apps from Martha Stewart Living and National Geographic.
Philadelphia sees its iPad app as more of an inspirational piece while the mobile website it launched in March gives quick access to business listings, events and deals.
Both the Philadelphia and Raleigh Durham CVBs have integrated social gaming into their mobile marketing strategy using SCVNGR and other services.
Of all the DMOs represented in this session, however, Visit Denver was the only one offering a mobile website alongside native iOS and Android apps. Bresler describes Visit Denver’s mobile marketing strategy as follows:
- Promotion on every page of the Denver.org website
- An “interstitial” screen that displays when a mobile browser visits the denver.org website. Users see a screen giving them the option to download the iPhone or Android app, or continue to the denver.org mobile website. It also promotes their text message program.
- QR codes that people can scan with their smartphone, linking them to the mobile interstitial page mentioned above
- QR codes on printed visitor guides and other display advertising
- A backing sheet that goes behind their visitor guides in brochure racks. It extends beyond the top of the guide with the QR code.
- Promotion in official visitor centers around Denver
- Promotion in conjunction with area meetings and conventions
When you offer both mobile web and native apps, which wins?
Because Visit Denver has done such a thorough job of promoting both its mobile website and native applications, it offers a good case study to demonstrate which performs best. For context, Denver had 12.7 million overnight visitors in 2010.
In a little more than a year, their apps have had:
- Over 40,000 downloads
- Over one million page views
- About five times the Denver.org mobile web traffic
That’s right – currently Denver’s native iOS and Android apps combined are getting five times more page views than Denver’s mobile website. Each has exactly the same content.
“So we are very bullish on apps, we will continue to develop apps” says Bresler.
Why does he think Denver’s native apps are outperforming the mobile website?
“We feel like it provides the user a more directed experience. Once you download that onto your phone, if you do it right, you can give them access to the things they value most. Right now I feel like it’s faster than mobile browsing.
“I feel like until HTML 5, some of these advanced mobile websites and until 4G gets deeper penetration, I want most of the data for my destination to live on my visitor’s phone.
“I don’t want them to have to continually reference it from the internet. Especially with troubles that AT&T has had with their network, the spotty distribution of the 4G network. I feel like right now that apps are a very legitimate choice.”
But what about the cost? Custom native app development can be very expensive.
According to Bresler, Visit Denver is “blessed with a budget that allows us to do some of these things, and a Visitors Bureau leadership that encouraged us to do this, that sees this not just as a tool for leisure visitors but also for convention attendees who we really encourage to download this app”.
He concludes with this advice about how to prioritize your mobile budget:
“So, if you have $10,000, build a mobile website. If you have limited resources, go with the platform that is more ubiquitous and universal. But if you have more resources, you know what our decision was, to go with an app first.
“So maximize your mobile experience, but you have to know your budgets and your operational tolerance for risk. And if you are feeling like you’re nervous about getting into the app game, and you’re not willing to do one for Android and for iPhone right now, that would be a dicey decision. The market share has equalized enough [between iOS and Android] that you can’t ignore one of those audiences in favor of the other. So you have to be willing to do dual development on that.”
Danielle Cohn of the Philadelphia CVB adds:
“Nobody needs to be a guinea pig right now – there are some really solid solutions from vendors and they’re now even more affordable because many of us paid more for a lot of these products, that now they can turn them around in 30-60 days.”
NB: This is a guest article by David Poteet, president of Nomad Mobile Guides, a mobile platform provider providing mobile websites and native apps for destinations.