Are small tourism businesses really ready for the mobile revolution?

For years we’ve been told that “this year will be the year of mobile”. Unfortunately, for many of us, this tiresome line became mundane and predictable years ago.

You can only go to so many conference that tell you that mobile is just over the horizon before you realize that, at the time, no one was ready for mobile.

Luckily, however, Apple and Google stepped up their game and it is now fairly safe to say that mobile has arrived.

But are businesses, specifically of the small tourism variety, any more ready now than they were ten years ago, when WAP and cHTML were the name of the game?

You’ve undoubtedly heard me previously mention the PhoCusWright report When they get there and why they go.

I’m going to mention it again because, in 2011 when the report came out, one of the most interesting snippets of data showed that 63% of consumers intended to use their mobile devices for booking in-destination tours and activities and that 39% had already done so.

This data is interesting because it shows that consumers – primarily those in the US – are already using their smartphones and tablets to do their bookings.

Based on our own Rezgo booking data, we know that the majority of bookings of direct to supplier in-destination bookings are made between three and seven days in advance of the activity date.

We have also seen booking using mobile devices grow from 12% last year to over 21% for the first and second quarters of 2012.  For some of the operators we work with, bookings through mobile are as high as 30%.

Since travellers are favouring their tablets and smartphones during travel more than their laptops, I think it is safe to assume that this consumer intent will likely increase over time.

The issue is, however, that the majority of small tourism businesses that provide local in-destination tours and activities who are already struggling with how to handle e-commerce and advanced payments are now faced with the challenge of making their businesses mobile friendly.

Marketplace dominance

For now, marketplace players like Viator and GetYourGuide have done a good job of making their websites mobile-friendly and building mobile apps.

These technologies allow their partners to benefit vicariously through their innovation. Do a search for “tours and activities” in the Apple App store, for example, and you’ll find that all of the applications are for services that re-sell other operator’s services.

The chances of finding an app produced by an actual operator are extremely slim.  The primary reason, besides the cost of creating such an app, is that an app for a single operator has little usefulness.

On a recent trip to Miami, we booked a dolphin encounter, a jet boat ride, and a sightseeing tour. Despite the fact that none of have had apps to download, there is no way I would have bothered downloading an app for each of these providers because I would most likely only use the app once and then delete it.

I did, however, visit the operator websites while in Miami and, sadly, none of them were mobile friendly.

Location-based service irrelevancy

In addition to app irrelevance, an issue that doesn’t seem to get discussed very often, is that location based services (which are a big part of the mobile ecosystem) are not relevant for many in destination tour operators.

Why? Because very few in-destination tour and activity operators operate out of their place of business.

Showing a traveler how close they are to an operator’s business address doesn’t really help. Almost all of the popular mobile location-based services work well for fixed locations like restaurants, attractions, or points of interest, but they don’t work well for tours.

Being able to show tours or activities regardless of operator however is much more relevant.  This is where companies like Viator and GetYourGuide shine.

The Viator iPhone app, for example, shows you all tours close to you. Compare that to Google Local, for example, which will show you businesses (based on their address) close by.  These are completely different searches with completely different relevance for the traveller.

Viator App vs. Yelp App for Tours & Activities relevance
[NB: Compare the results from the Viator app on the left and centre versus the Yelp app on the right. The Viator app shows actual tours and allows you to book in destination. The Yelp app shows a travel agency listing – not very useful.]

Mobile is about communicating

So what are tourism businesses supposed to do when it comes to mobile? Is being listed in the Yelp app or the Yellow Pages useful to a tour operator looking for impulse travel customers?

In the pay-to-play world of mobile, small businesses simply cannot compete head to head with the big guns. Frankly there is little point in competing head on with the big players.

Generally speaking they have the marketing and development budgets to outspend any small operator. If possible, small operators should try to partner with the marketplaces so their tours and activities are available in their apps and mobile websites.

In addition to distributing through these channels, there are lots of web applications available now that allow small businesses to create mobile websites that are relatively inexpensive.

Services like Dudamobile, for example, allow small businesses to create a mobile friendly website with maps and click to call buttons for less than $10 a month.

If the operator is already using a platform like WordPress, there are plugins like the WPTouch that will automatically detect and convert a WordPress site into a mobile friendly version.

The key to winning the mobile battle for small business is understanding what travellers are likely to do when they are in destination.

If the traveler is looking for things to do, and therefore shopping around, a good portion (over a third of them) are likely to pick up brochures or rack cards to find out more about local tours and activities.

They may even do a search on Google for “Things to do in X”.  If they find one they want to do, they will call or go online on their mobile device to book.  In this case, having a well optimized website with a mobile friendly interface and clear instructions on how to book are critical.

If the traveler has already booked the tour or activity and is looking to confirm their plans a day or two in advance, they will most likely refer to a printed voucher or email for contact information to call.

It’s generally unlikely that they will email an operator to confirm a reservation that’s only a day or two away, but they might.  These travelers will most likely visit the operator’s website to check for directions and to confirm travel times once in a location.

What to do

So an operator can focus their mobile optimized site to provide the following information:

  • Address information and a map (preferably linked to Google Maps or the new Apple Maps application) for easy directions.
  • A click to call button so the traveler can call the operator without having to dial the number.
  • A click to email button in order to send an message to the operator.
  • A mobile booking interface so that a traveler can book a tour or activity in real-time and get a confirmation on their phone.

That last one may be a bit of a stretch for most operators, but it is eventually where they will want to be. In the meantime, making it easy for the traveler to connect with the operator is a great place to start.

It’s pretty safe to say that the age of mobile has arrived and that this year “is the year of mobile” .

In the same way the web became a ubiquitous part of our daily lives back in the 90s, mobile is now becoming just as commonplace.

Thankfully, the cloud and software-as-a-service (SaaS) web applications are making it easier and more cost effective for tourism businesses of all sizes to get mobile ready.

The challenge now, as back then with the internet, is ensuring operators understand the benefits of being mobile friendly and that they make the appropriate investments.

The consumer intent is there – the ability for tourism business to deliver is still in question.

NB: Phone and pin image via Shutterstock.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail to someone
Stephen Joyce

About the Writer :: Stephen Joyce

Stephen Joyce has been a contributor to tnooz since 2009 and has been working in travel and tourism technology since 1995. Stephen is the CEO of, a cloud based software as a service reservation and booking platform for tour and activity providers.

Stephen is the Past Board Chair of the OpenTravel Alliance and currently sits on the Education Advisory Group for the National Tour Association (NTA).

Stephen is a graduate of Capilano University, a certified commercial pilot, and holds a certificate in IT Management.



Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Nanda Banerjee

    Great article
    I am a part of DudaMobile reseller program and find it very useful. I help the local small business owners in Canada near Toronto develop mobile friendly website .

  2. Greg

    Great reading and some worth while resources to investigate. I have been doing local business web design here in sunny Queensland Australia for a few years now and have just joined with Duda mobile to
    start converting old and new clients. I agree with the comments about booking systems being a hurdle, also some of the restaurant booking systems out here are hard to get right on a mobile… if not impossible. Duda has a solution for restaurants with Open Table but the service is not Downunder yet.
    Local businesses are frustrated with technology moving so fast and customers expectations, but hey if they see the light they can get the jump on their competition.

  3. Kevin M Roberts


    You are singing our song. In the past year, the biggest learning curve in our market has been educating the difference between mobile web and mobile App. To that end, we find that most in the travel industry will be well served with a mobile website. tipping point being anyone’s guess on the timeline, do you think there will me a crowded rush to critical mass next year? fifteen years ago the question was “do you have a website?” Today’s question, ‘is your website mobile?” Better be.

  4. Are Small Travel Businesses Ready For The Mobile Revolution? – STAY WYSE

    […] Source Share this:TwitterFacebookLinkedIn Filed Under: News, Technology, Trends « TripAdvisor Goes Down Under With Media Partnership […]

  5. Dan Marchese

    I really enjoyed this article, and thanks for showcasing the Viator app. We’ve put in great effort to make the app relevant for the users. Like you, we didn’t expect an address of a tour to mean much to the traveler, so we used our Attraction/POI data for the location piece, and map our tours back to that.

    We also knew that to make our mobile initiatives successful, we would need to have the operators on board. Changes like increasing the availability window and accepting mobile vouchers were key in making our mobile site and app successful. Bookings within 24 hours now make up a good portion of mobile transactions.

    It’s an exciting time for mobile and travel. With Apple announcing Passbook, I hope to see more operators jump on board to accept mobile vouchers because like it or not, customers are going to expect it of them.

    Dan Marchese
    Director of Mobile, Viator

  6. Gus Moore

    Hi Stephen,

    Great advice and comments from everyone. Developing an app for a single operator is expensive and has little usefulness, but making our websites mobile friendly is something every small tourism business should be focused on, right now.

    Over 20% of our website visitors are on a mobile phone. It’s time to catch up…. before it’s too late.

    I’ll be taking the suggestions.

    Thank you all for sharing!


  7. Jennifer Gaines

    Thanks for mentioning DudaMobile! Small businesses are always slower to adopt emerging technology, but there’s a silver lining for the travel industry. Duda just released a data report that shows that, of the SMBs that have built mobile-friendly sites, the travel and tourism industry ranks #4 on the list. Not bad! We see a lot of boutique hotels and B&Bs building sites with many of them taking advantage of click-to-call for immediate phone reservations, mobile maps, photo galleries and mobile contact forms.

    • Stephen Joyce

      Stephen Joyce

      Thanks Jennifer. That’s good to know that progress is being made. Like anything worthwhile, it’s a long term strategy. Sometimes I just wish they would move a little faster.

      • Jennifer Gaines

        Us too! 🙂 The biggest challenge in mobile as it relates to small businesses is educating them that they need to have a mobile presence. Once we get past that hurdle, it will move faster!

  8. Daniele Beccari

    Stephen, good stuff as usual.

    I would only add the roaming problem for international travel: still around for a few years despite initial steps in reducing international data costs from carriers.

    Rack cards don’t have roaming problems.

  9. Paul Wittwer

    Great article Stephen. Whilst the importance of mobile websites is evident to nearly everyone, especially mobile phone wielding travelers, smaller tourism businesses are slow in their adoption of the technology.

    We create inexpensive mobile landing pages specifically tailored to tourism businesses like you mention in the article. The pages have click to call, click to maps, translations and links to email and social networking sites (see on a mobile).

    We have helped a few hundred tourism businesses in our first six months but it is tougher than we thought. Whilst everyone loves it and “gets it”, not everyone actually gets it.

    The integration of real time online bookings is problematic. There are a relatively small number of operators who actually have booking systems and there are many types in use by those that do.

    We would like to hear from people who could integrate an existing mobile booking system with a “book now” link on our pages. We’d also love to hear from people interested in distributing our product in markets outside of Australia and New Zealand.

    • Stephen Joyce

      Stephen Joyce

      Looks like a great solution Paul and the Australia/New Zealand markets certainly have some great educational organizations in place to help operators. The ATDW Tourism E-Kit for example has a whole section now dedicated to mobile. I’d love to see other regions be as proactive.

    • Simon Perrot

      Good point Paul !!
      I’m in charge of the digital activies for a French group called CityVision in France. We are one of the most important leader of tours/excursion in France through our brands Cityrama, Paris Vision, Opentour and Marina de Paris.
      I would love to “gets it” but unfortunately I have to work first on our system and be able to integrate booking in the real time coz developp an app or mobile website will be useless if I’m not able to provide last minute booking.
      This article is remarkable but I only regret that it not covers enough (my opinion) the interest to offer a mobile application to recruit new customers and grow its turnover.
      Honnestly I’m not convinced Viator followed the right strategy through his App coz Mobile is really personnel and I’m not sure the tourist wants to upload App only based based on Tours.
      I intend to develop an APP which provide additional services to be useful to the tourist when he is in Paris with Content on POI, MAP, etc….
      I need to look for deeply the needs of the tourists when they are already in Paris, Do not hesitate to add comments and your opinion about it.


Newsletter Subscription

Please subscribe now to Tnooz’s FREE daily newsletter.

This lively package of news and information from Tnooz’s web site provides a convenient digest of what’s happening in technology that drives the global travel, tourism and hospitality market.

  • Cancel