Where next with technology for tourism boards and destination marketing organisations?

NB: This is a guest article by Mark Mattson, a former university professor who writes agile software solutions for the travel industry through TravelTools, a service for destination marketers.

In late 2010, we interviewed 650 destination marketing organizations to determine what they had in the way of tools for delivering web content to visitors.

By tools, we mean utilities such as interactive maps, itinerary builders, or calendars of events. We also asked about organizational tool selection processes and who operated new tool purchases after they were acquired. Tnooz published our inventory – Rough Guide to Tourism Websites and Technology – in January 2011.

Among our findings were stories that destination marketers told us about why they succeeded or failed. These anecdotes added context to our raw numbers. They also helped us understand the importance of organizational dynamics throughout acquisition processes.

As we teased out our data, we found that resources made less impact than we originally estimated. While funding directly impacted the number and sophistication of the tools that a DMO could afford, it had little to do with overall satisfaction or success in reaching organizational goals.

As it turned out, dissatisfaction surrounded peripheral issues to funding such as vendor and technology lock-in, inadequate staffing and institutional inertia brought about by policies and oversized egos.

Merging our factual inventory with these organizational anecdotes revealed a five-tiered break-down based on the numbers of tools, their types, and the organizational dynamics affecting their selection, implementation, and day-to-day management.

Empowered by what we observed, we spent a year building a comprehensive web framework.

In anticipation of its launch, we revisited our data to see if anything changed while we bent over the grindstone. Our re-visit involved an inventory of 60 websites that we surveyed earlier.

Our methodology consisted of comparing what we saw over a year ago with what we observed today.

Our findings showed us that changes were few when viewed through the lens of predictable change. While the technology paradigm shifted slightly, organizational positioning within the technology market remained fairly rigid.

In effect, organizations remained in their original class. What changed was what constituted a class.

For example, in our original survey, 54% of all respondent websites lacked interactive mapping functions. Now, 50% of those have interactive maps and itinerary building capacities.

Another 35% have Google maps that merely show POI locations, but not the spatial relationships between or among points of interests. None benefited by using their new functions to drill down into user preferences or spatial activity landscapes.

In the absence of harnessing the true essence of technology, the most poorly outfitted classes are still the most poorly outfitted.

The difference being that they now are at the bottom with features that more equipped organizations had a year and a half ago. At the other end of the spectrum, the rich didn’t get much richer.

Of the 16% that had mobile phone apps when we originally surveyed, none has added newer features such as media consumption on many screens, as articulated by Claude Benard in his Tnooz Predictions 2012.

Our observations show us that many organizations added phone apps moving into a higher class based on the number of capacities that they offer.

On a less encouraging note, our observations suggest that the state of technology is flat and the vision for media consumption on many screens is simply that – a vision moving forward for Google and Apple, but not trickling down to designated marketers.

Our observations are particularly true for Capacity Under Performers, Technology Prisoners, and Widows and Orphans.

1. Capacity Under-Performers

According to our findings this group comprised 55% of all organizations that failed to offer contemporary, industry-ready tools.

Today the class still comprises slightly over 50% and despite having added some capacities, it still lags behind because the definition of industry-optimal has shifted like a carrot on a stick to include smart devices, true interactivity, and data mining.

2. Technology Prisoners

Technology prisoners were those that were reluctant or incapable of changing course.

Included in this class were those that offered full capacity sets, but were burdened by onerous, long-term contracts for tools that have long-since passed their technological prime.

Technology prisoners are also well-meaning pioneers that made early and costly commitments to technologies that are now limited in their abilities to expand to accommodate new smart applications and advanced database queries.

Also mired among Technology Prisoners are organizations managed by individuals who justify or protect historical decisions for personal reasons.

Obviously, a simple 60-site web inventory can’t replicate the anecdotal information that we originally gathered, but we can see that little has changed in terms of the outward interfaces of these ego-driven organizations. Since this is the case, we have little reason to believe that managerial inertia isn’t still affecting progress in a negative way.

3. Widows and Orphans

These small organizations need new technology and efficiencies but lack finances and/or staffing. Our survey showed that 36% of our original respondents fell into this class.

Today, the number remains the same despite some improvements in services. Given the fall in price of adding interactive mapping 25% of our original widows and orphans can now afford them.

We can see, however, that most of these additions are not a database driven solution. We can also see that most of our widows and orphans still don’t have content management solutions (CMS) or evidence of customer relationship management technologies (CRM).

What to do next?

As we revisit this break-down, we must acknowledge limitations in the market. To do otherwise, ignores fundamental facts – positioning is relative to structures and resources in the industry, more than it is due to other factors.

If a technology heaven does exist for destination marketers, it is one in which every group has an equal chance of making it to the promise land. In this case, the promise land is where 650 organizations told us we could find it. It is a place where marketers find:

  • Expert intelligent systems that learn who the traveler is and how to configure visitor experiences based on individual affinities or preferences.
  • E-newsletters to inform prospective visitors of events, specials, or “hot deals”. (We think that QR codes would have fit this bill if they were around at the time of our survey)
  • Online shopping and advertising to offset the rising cost of site creation and management.
  • Tools that manage and record itineraries, traveler reviews, events, personalized travel itineraries, and maps for the purpose of facilitating destination-specific planning.

Given advancements in smart technology, we might add the following:

1. Using technology to enhance experience at point of contact

In another contribution to Tnooz, I called this “what-else-marketing” that employs newer technologies such as smartphones, social media, and QR codes to increase commerce at the POP (point of purchase or geographic location of the visitor, within the destination marketplace, at any point in time).

“What-else-marketing” harnesses the spontaneity of the journey in that it links physical world objects and opportunities to visitors at the street level in real time.

2. Recognition of personalization

Personalization, to me, means replacing the current destination-marketing model that is a mile wide and an inch deep with tailored communications that are a mile deep and an inch wide.

In this way, destination marketers can serve highly differentiated constituencies or affinities by compiling and utilizing the emergent properties of travel in the same way that an ornithologist might utilize the characteristics of singular birds to understand the behavior or affinities of flocks.

3. Use of multi-channel technology

In our way of thinking, technology isn’t about adding features. It’s about building frameworks that facilitate multiple visualizations in the same way that a user can use a menu to select multiple displays or print options.

To talk about new entry points such as smartphones, tablets, and e-books requires a wholesale re-evaluation of tools as a concept.

Moreover, if destination marketers are to remain relevant in the face of advances in multi-channel technologies made by Internet giants like Facebook, Google, and Apple, they must look beyond the simple addition of tools or capacities and start to invest in systems that are “all-tool”” and “all channels” simultaneously.

Summing up

In order to attain the aforementioned goals, we need to shift gears from tool counts to mission-based accomplishments.

None of these things is going to happen at the level of destination marketing without taking the vertical costs of invention and turning these flat against the democratic and universal needs of destination marketers of all sizes and capacities.

In other words, if marketers leave invention to billionaires like Apple or Google, they are sunk because no matter how flush they are with funds they can never hope to keep pace.

What the industry needs is a system that collapses the lengthy and costly assembly line into a simple and easy-to-use box that feeds highly specific individual and organizational content into one end and spits it out to any screen at the other.

This system needs to be infused with feedback loops—both longitudinal and real-time—that add traveler preferences, profiles, opinions, and experiences as emergent properties of a system that outputs to “screens” of all types.

To look to other solutions, to keeping adding tools as separate workstations on the destination marketing production line is the type of linear thinking that will never accomplish a holistic view or a multi-screened future.

NB: This is a guest article by Mark Mattson, a former university professor who writes agile software solutions for the travel industry through TravelTools, a service for destination marketers.

NB2: Mattson is about to launch a proprietary WordPress plugin that is a multi-channel and multi-screen solution that simultaneously runs DMO websites, interactive maps, smart phones, pads, e-newsletters, itinerary builders, HD kiosks, QR code integrations, and HDTVs from a single administrator panel and database.

NB3: Image via Shutterstock.

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About the Writer :: Viewpoints

A founding principle of tnooz was a diversity of viewpoints from across the spectrum. Viewpoints are articles by guest contributors from around the travel and hospitality industries. The views expressed are the views and opinions of the author and do not reflect or represent the views of his employer, tnooz, its writers, or partners.



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  1. Patrick Mulder

    As we advice a lot of travel companies I’m very interested in the WordPress plugin Mark! Do you have twitter so I can follow you?

  2. Diana

    Sounds like you have put together the “simple and easy-to-use box” with your new plugin, Mark! Very exciting!


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