DMOs and mobile – there is hope for them yet

DMO iphoneIn my post “Will destination marketers see the opportunities in mobile?” I discussed some of the opportunities that DMOs have when it comes to the mobile space.

I also discussed how destinations have the leg up when it comes to aggregating local and regional content.

It would seem that some DMOs are actually making some positive steps towards embracing and potentially leveraging the mobile space to market their destinations more effectively.

One such destination is British Columbia.  Yes, I live in BC, but that isn’t the reason why I am profiling them specifically.

The reason, quite simply, is because they have done a really nice job of building an app that most closely reflects my recommendations.

The iPhone application is called “Near me B.C.” and is available for download now through the App Store. On first pass it’s not exactly the most attractive application to look at but it does have over 4,000 restaurants, attractions, accommodations, and things to do in B.C.  So here are my thoughts based a few simple criteria:
  • Design: The interface is sterile and corporate, not at all inspiring or interesting.  But, as a first pass, it’s a good start focusing more on the important content then the look and feel.  Compare that to TripWolf’s app for example which has a really nice design and elegant interface but is lacking in the depth and breadth of content.  Once Tourism B.C. (or whatever they are called now) figure out how to combine the content they have with an inspiring interface, they will have a clear winner on their hands.
  • Functionality: The app is very simple and easy to use providing quick access to listings and details about attractions, sites, and restaurants that are close to you.  You can search for items, find their location on a map, and get directions.  What is lacking is any form of social interactivity such as reviews and ratings, or recommendations based on category.  With some many choices, a visitor may not have any idea how good a particular restaurant really is.  Having reviews, whether provided by a third party review site like TripReviews or perhaps aggregated by a site like Uptake, may provide more context to the generic listings provided by the app.
  • Content: Ah, this is where the app really shines.  The depth and breadth of the content is unmatched when compared to other B.C. travel guides.  Where TripWolf and LonelyPlanet have between nine and thirty restaurants listed for Vancouver, the Near Me B.C. app has over 400.  But there is a limit to how many choices you can provide a traveller before the ability to make a decision becomes next to impossible.  This is where some social tools or user generated ratings and reviews may help to sort out the wheat from the chaff.
  • Overall: This is a really strong start for a destination like B.C. and provides a solid framework for future development.  The key with this app and all apps that are similar is that the features are great but the content is king.  You can do a lot in terms of narrowing choices for consumers and identifying the top restaurants or attractions if you have all the data to work with.  In this case, B.C. is in a good position to be able to provide a strong value add for visitors to the region by providing a tool that is both comprehensive and functional.  As I mentioned before, however, the app is not just an information tool but a way to inspire visitors to explore and experience B.C.  As an inspirational tool, the app still needs work.  The good news is, that building in the ability to inspire is no where as complex as trying to aggregate data from 4,000 suppliers across the province.
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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.



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  1. Who will make money from mobile in travel and how will they do it? | Tnooz

    […] he problem with destination content to date has in part been not fully understanding the role of satisficing behaviour — more is not necessarily better, and timing is key. There are some great companies in this space, but the product has never been embraced by consumers to the extent it deserved. This is one reason why I think DMO’s on their own face an uphill battle in mobile, despite having the most local content and a few already making a valiant effort in mobile. […]

  2. Much to admire, still more to do, with boredom-fixing Goby iPhone app | Tnooz

    […] currently indicate how many results were found.  If companies like Goby could find a way to work with DMOs then they could access to an abundant source of local data and provide added value for destinations […]

  3. Joebertl

    Together with a partner (intermaps) we (the Austrian National Tourist Office) currently developed iSki Austria, an iPhone app with current informations of all relevant SkiResorts in Austria, maps, snow heights, how many, which slopes are open and which cablecars are in service and so on. The result: more then 25.000 downloads within 6 months. Just one press-release and no more marketing. That’s it. A story of success.

    So – we are short before launching iAlps – a summer-iPhone-app for Austria. It will be less succesful because winter-holiday is still more popular in Austria, but it will be worth the (little) money we invest in it.

    But another question occurs: is it really the job of an DMO to develop mobile apps? Like Reinhard Lanner posted: For iPhone Users it is much more convenient to use apps user already know, have used and know the interface instead of download an app for each country/DMO I am visiting with different way of information and navigation.

    The same question already occured in running travel communities of a destination like Austria. We tried ( – and failed. Some others still go on ( , but up to my opinion there is no future for DMO’s to step into tripadvisors or wayns biz modell.

    And I have a similar opinion about dmo-applications: most of them wont work. Yes, DMO’s will fail and misinvest a lot of time and money in developing mobile activities! The only way to avoid this is if the mobile activities focus consequently to support the user’s needs during the travel planning process. I mean it is necessary to clearly focus on potential guests and online(iphone)user who already made the decision of a destination, who already are in detail-planning of their trip. Here there is a chance for DMO’s to succeed. Why? Because a lot of people don’t want to rely an commercial sites and prefer and trust “official” ones.

    Conclusion: It is a DMO job to edit current and relevant content of a destination AND to aggregate relevant content of a DMO from other content providers like online media, hotels, travel guides, UGC and so on. The way to syndicate the content is the next step. Propably it is also via mobile apps. But first this relevant content of a destination has to be aggregated on the DMO-website, then it has to be shared via own communication channels like newsletters, twitter, FB-fanpages, Digg or bookmarks, then via distribution partners (f.e. tripadvisor, holiday check and so on offers DMO’s to place their content on their sites – for free!)and “not least but last (!)” it is the mobile sector which is a channel for distribution of DMO-content.

  4. Joe Buhler

    I do agree that any DMO should be congratulated for taking a path to innovation and embrace it. Having said that, rather than trying to develop technology capabilities in-house I would suggest they actively talk to any of the growing number of travel innovators whose main focus is on producing technology solutions. In most cases the best apps have been developed by those start-ups rather than by DMOs inside their organizations. That’s just how the free market operates so take advantage of it. Also, in many cases the destinations by now have the traffic to leverage and many of the start-ups do not. It’s a win-win to work together.

  5. Stuart McDonald

    Hi Stephen,
    I hadn’t read your earlier post, but now that I have realise I was probably a bit on the wrong page on this. I do think though, highlighting a particular app does open it to critiquing — where there has been a fair bit of both in my post and others.

    Yes, I agree totally that innovation should be encouraged. The App Store is full of mediocre or worse travel Apps, and the sooner the quality improves the sooner consumers will benefit and the sooner developers will be able to make more dosh.

    After reading the comments on the other post I went and downloaded the Amsterdam Mobile Guide — it’s an excellent product and excels in many of the points where the above failed. It’s probably one of the best destination apps I’ve come across so far.


  6. Stephen Joyce

    Stephen Joyce

    Stuart, I think David Janes would probably hold his app up as an example of how a DMO app should be built. I think the point is that a DMO actually spent the time, resources, and budget to put something like this together. DMOs are not particularly famous for being cutting edge or innovative. Although this may not be a stellar app, it shows that DMOs can be creative and innovative. Yes, there are definitely areas for improvement, but we should be encouraging innovation in order to keep moving forward.

  7. Stuart McDonald

    Surely there are better DMO apps out there than this one?

    Do you really want to scroll through 400 restaurants to find somewhere to eat? Or through 200 sights to find a funpark? It doesn’t even appear to have the facility to categorise by foodtype or sight. There’s a lot to be said for the role of a filter. I don’t want a list of everything — I want a list of the best of everything.

    Secondly, the app is useless without a network connection. I assume tourists from other countries are one of the target markets — they can look forward to some Hefty roaming bills.

    Thirdly, boring lists and thumbnail pics do not get me inspired — at all.

    Lastly, it is very slow — though that could be down to my internet connection.

    Frankly this is a very mediocre app. Surely there are better ones out there to illustrate what a good DMO app can provide?

  8. The Week in Travel Tech - December 13 to 19 2009 | Tnooz

    […] DMOs and mobile – there is hope for them yet […]

  9. David Janes

    Reinhard’s question is not unlike asking “Because Lonely Planet has a guide for City X, why should I go to their DMO to get further information?”. The reason is that the DMO is uniquely tasked with presenting the best face of the destination – they want to you to have a great time, spend lots of money, and tell all your friends, etc..

    Likewise it is in the mobile space. With further innovations such as (my company) Discover Anywhere Mobile’s social media extensions – allowing the visitor to directly communicate with DMO, DMO partners and perhaps even other visitors – we can now have DMO-apps provide function that can’t be by generic apps. I expect there’ll be a lot more similar and surprising innovation over the next 2 to 3 years in the space.

    I’ll note that that’s not to preclude repurposing the data onto other mobile apps, though there may be a host of issues involved with this too (Layar pulled from App Store).

  10. Patrick Payne

    Based on a fair amount of experience in mobile (15 years) I would have to say the app has focused on a key component of mobile (location aware) but has missed on several other elements.

    First of all full disclosure: our company QuickMobile specializes in mobile in particular iPhone application design and delivery.

    Most mobile app developers fail to capitalize on the real power of mobile and over-simplify the context of mobile. The classic mistake – “it’s the web in the palm of your hand” the first approach we often experience.

    The web is fundamentally different – it is a vast conglomeration of content and ideas – the mobile is a private personal communications channel. Hence personalization and relevance is a key driver in mobile as the constrained UI necessitates efficiency of design, navigation and content.

    In the early days of the web the websites were “Brochure ware” – this is also typical of in these early days of mobile applications – where is the interactivity or transactions or user-generated content.

    Our 2010 Sundance Film Festival iPhone app (just launched today!) includes connections to social networks and user-generated content to engage visitors – this feature among others is very applicable for DMOs looking to connect with their visitors.

  11. Reinhard Lanner

    Just downloaded the App and thought it was funny as “it” asked me if “it” could use my current location (sitting here in Austria)
    Anyway – many interesting things mentioned in Stephen´s article and all the comments above.
    Let me ask two questions:
    1) When people using mobile devices within the destination, what are their main requirements? Is it more inspiration or more facts&figures?

    2) If a traveller uses mobile devices when he goes to Vancouver, Seattle, Vienna, Paris “some might even visit our Lammertal Valley ;-)” why should she/he learn how to use 4,5 and more different Applications?
    Would they not rather stay on 2-3 preferred Applications like Tripwolf, Qype or similar and use them for information?

    If so, should DMOs rather invest in managing the content on the existing plattforms than investing resources in a Destination Apps?

  12. Claude

    I am wondering about this global mobile market.

    It’s a marketing game where we undressed Peter to dressed John or it’s a game were we developp globaly the travel market share or new market share with this new channels?

    Does anybody have some data about it?



  13. Jeffrey Kohn

    We at VisitMobile are developing an integrated iPhone and SMS solution for several North American DMOs. (

    I think the key to designing a successful mobile solution for travel and tourism is put yourself in the shoes of visitor at 3 distinct stages: Before, During, After the visit to the given destination.

    To insure the application is “sticky” and actually used by the visitor it needs to specific value at each stage:

    Before: Where should I stay with respect to the destination’s hot spots? What’s the contact information for places that need far in advance reservations?

    During: What events are going on this week? Where can I find a specific product or service (e.g., sushi, coffee, playground, train station, dry cleaner, winery tour) What deals & special offers are available? What’s around me right now? What will be around me after I finish with my activity this afternoon on the other side of town? What’s the weather, traffic, snow report?

    After: I want to share my favorite spots with others who are going to same destination or write a review, What events are coming up so should I return?

    It is also important to ensure your mobile solution has something in it for all 3 stakeholders:

    1) Keeping the visitor happy with fresh, quick, and useful information

    2) Helping industry partners get the visibility they need to drive real-time business

    3) Enabling the DMO meet their mission of promoting the destination, yet ensuring cost sustainability of the solution with revenue opportunities through optional advertising.

  14. Joe Buhler

    Did receive a tweet today about another iPhone App by a destination at the opposite end of Canada – St. John’s Newfoundland developed by David Janes’ company Discover Anywhere. He didn’t mention it in his post above. It adds a number of features that are missing in the BC app and takes a different approach to present content. It is worth checking out. What I do miss, is a social sharing component. Agree with Emmanuelle’s comment about having to market an experience and emotions and this applies also to a mobile app.

  15. Emmanuelle

    Although I probably shouldn’t comment as we have not yet launched an app for Montréal (I’m hoping it’s only a question of weeks 🙂 and although I think that mobile is the “next big thing” for destinations, I’m a little disappointed in the functionalities of this app. With so many developers launching apps that focus on a rich experience and that favour interaction with the user, an app that limits itself to being a listing of products and places doesn’t seem to offer real added value. So why invest in this sort of tool? Also, although I’m sure this app was developed for the tourist in B.C., why not offer a tourist in a planning mode these same functionalities? Finally, I absolutely agree with the fact that peer reviews should be a key focus for any destination.

    When developing these types of applications, we have the opportunity to market a product, an experience and an intangible feeling; we should always keep in mind that the visual experience and feedback are at the heart of it all.

    To my colleagues in B.C., at least you guys have jumped in and developed an app – I wish we could say the same! Congrats on being one of the first. Maybe we should talk about a phase 2 and work conjointly on a more experiential app?

    Emmanuelle Legault (emmanuelleMTL)
    Tourisme Montréal

  16. jonah

    The great thing about DMO’s is that they don’t have ALL the content, only the really good content. I find that the problem with many apps out there is that they try to cram everything on to that tiny screen. The truth is that, in my opinion anyway, less is better. The best applications I have seen have presented the most relevant information that I need while mobile on my mobile. Customization and the ability to use one’s peer group (social media) as a model is key to this too. Lastly, the ability for the businesses to communicate with the individual user while that person is mobile is a really attractive feature. In the end, I think the coolest feature will be the two way discussion, where a user can shoot video, or upload photos from their device and them to the discussion will be incredibly valuable.

    Great topic Stephen


  17. Joe Buhler

    Agree with a lot of what Stephen writes here. What I want to emphasize, is the need to work outward from the customer’s point of view and not the DMO’s. That’s what being customer centric means. Accordingly, own content is not king, often there is too much of it to begin with. In my mind a truly useful app – or a destination website for that matter – has to combine these elements:

    1) The right mix of content, including UGC / reviews
    2) social tools to share it all
    3) booking functionality to reserve accommodation, restaurants and local services

    What I’m seeing today is the situation you describe, a growing number of solutions all done separate from each other with the resulting drawbacks you describe using the Tripwolf vs. Near Me BC app. This situation is not making it easier for the customer but rather just more complex. What is required in my opinion is – at the risk of sounding like a broken record – more cooperation between the start-up innovators and DMOs at all levels. Unless that happens, I’m afraid we’ll just get more and more apps, all solving part of the problem rather than offering truly useful and relevant overall solutions.

  18. Stephen Joyce

    Stephen Joyce

    Just a quick disclosure for the sake of transparency. is a review site that was built by Sentias (the parent company of Rezgo) for a client in Vancouver, Skyland Travel Group. Sentias is contracted to maintain the site and has a small part ownership in it. It is in no way affiliated with any other sites that start with the word “Trip”.

  19. jonah

    We have built some very cool iphone and blackberry apps for DMO’s that do exactly what you are all suggesting. There are no better sources for travel content in aggregate than DMO sites. We are able to geotag everything and put on a mobile screen in a way that makes sense for the end user without overwhelming them. Contact us for a demo.


  20. David Janes

    Note that I have something of a conflict here, since my company develops competing products for DMOs. That said, here goes:

    Broadly speaking, I agree with Stephen’s comments (especially with regards to “look”), adding additionally

    You shouldn’t need to “choose a location” to get to topics/categories – “I want to eat” is a more fundamental visitor activity that “I plan to be in Kamloops someday”. In fact, I believe that the whole concept of “named places as a method of organization” is a holdover from printed material thinking. With an iPhone app, the information you’re presented should be entirely fluid, based on either where you are or an attraction you’re interested in.

    There needs to be an events calendar – visitors want to do stuff!

    There has to be some consideration to the fact that not only do US visitors actually have to pay for data (making live data downloading potentially expensive), but requiring a network connection may not be idea for tourists outside of major centres. Put your iPhone in Airplane Mode and try to use the app.

    And in the nitpicking category, once you’ve chosen a location, you can’t get back to the top level to choose a different place without leaving the app!

    You shouldn’t have to leave the app to go the “Hello BC” site, and if they really do have to make you leave it, they should bring you back to the page you were at.

    Despite the negatives, mobile applications are exactly what DMOs should be doing and this is a good start. The question here – and I guess only a visitor can really answer this – is is this app compelling enough that they’ll click on it when they want to do something in BC.

  21. @toddlucier

    Three basics I think apps need to include:
    social – two way stream of content both from in region and visitors.
    click to purchase / check availability

    On the product / packages / content side, NearMe does very well.
    The bar is still really low in the handheld app space, but that being said, NearMe cleared it without issue.

  22. Tweets that mention DMOs and mobile - there is hope for them yet | Tnooz --

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Stephen A. Joyce, Siham Jamaa. Siham Jamaa said: DMOs and mobile – there is hope for them yet – via @AddToAny […]


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