Charis de Craene, Head of Online Communications for Antwerp Tourism & Conventions reveals her journey into mobile app development and the learnings along the way...
Putting digital at the core of your marketing and communication strategy is probably the most important thing a destination should do. Mobile first approach? Yes, sir! Mobile applications? Yes, we want one! Stop making those printed guides! Really?
But is it that easy? Is it that simple to just swipe all other things of the table and start with a blank, digital slate? I don’t believe it is that simple. First of all digital doesn’t implicate less effort. In contrast, things change ALL THE TIME, keeping track in a digital world is very hard work. Secondly, it’s very expensive. If you want to put so much money into a project, you should think it over more than one time!
In this blog I want to tell you about how we incorporated digital in our strategy, starting with two mobile applications we launched in the last three years. We struggled, put a lot of effort in the process, and are still learning every day.
Let me start with This is Antwerp, a mobile application that we launched in 2011. It was a fairly new ‘thing’ back then. We released the app with the start of the This is Antwerp campaign, a youth campaign to put Antwerp on the map of international young travelers.
With This is Antwerp we try to guide young city trippers through Antwerp. Young, creative locals give them tips and places to go to, unique spots they wouldn’t find in regular tourist guides. To bring those hotspots together our mobile app is in the first place a very practical tool. Visitors can download this application for free and use it offline when they are here in Antwerp.
We put a lot of thought into the matter. We didn’t develop this application, just to have an application. It was well thought off, we did research and concluded that if we wanted to come up with a mobile application, we‘d best launch one for a target group that would and could use it. Young travelers seemed to be the perfect match.
It was the perfect peer group to start with. Young people that travel tend to carry a mobile device with them, the fact that they could use it offline once they were in Antwerp, added up because there were no roaming costs involved.
This summer it will be three years since we launched the This is Antwerp application and it has been a success ever since, and that really makes us happy. (41,042 downloads on 8/07/2014)
The reason why it is so popular has probably something to do with the fact that our local young ones use it too. If they want to know what party is hot, or cool expo will open next weekend, they check out the application and tell their friends about it.
Having an application that is up to date is another reason why it’s so successful. But on the other hand, this takes a lot, a lot, a lot of effort. It’s a job that never stops. Everyday new events pop up, new things happen in the city, and it’s import you bring the latest and correct information to your users.
This is probably the most important consideration when a destination wants to create a mobile application. Ask yourself, do we have the resources to keep it up to date. Our application is a very easy database where we, the This is Antwerp team, put the info into. It’s not difficult to use, but still it takes really a lot of work. Find the right text, look for the right image, check out the addresses, opening hours, entrance fees, …
I think that’s even more important than the cost it brings if you want to change things structurally to your application. If you don’t have dedicated people to fill out the application with up to date info, then don’t make one. It’s absolutely not worth the effort and the money you will spend.
Take it or leave it, money is a big consideration too. Developing an application costs a lot of money, and making adjustments after a few years like we have to do, is a big investment. The look and feel of This is Antwerp changed throughout the years and we are in need of an update to make it visually stronger. But that’s a big cost, and something you have to take into account before you start.
Also, some things just don’t work, or, you might come up with new ideas to add to your app. Again, these changes have to be made by a developer and in the end it’s all about money again (for example: we decided to put ATMs in our application, that wasn’t in our original scope). The support and maintenance of an application is something you should be aware of before you even start thinking about developing an application.
The lesson we learned thanks to This is Antwerp was a very important one. This brings me inevitably to the other application we launched, Fashion in Antwerp: another mobile app, with a different starting point.
A lot of visitors come to Antwerp to feel, hear, experience fashion. Some are mainly interested in shopping, others really want to dig into the story about Fashion in Antwerp. 2013 was all about fashion. The Antwerp Fashion Department, a world renowned fashion school in the heart of Antwerp celebrated its 50th anniversary. Therefore, Antwerp Tourism & Conventions decided to create some products for those visitors interested in fashion.
We created two printed maps (available for free at our visitor center) with a selection of unique fashion stores and concepts, created a responsive website (www.fashioninantwerp.be) with the latest news and information on Antwerp Fashion and a mobile application, named Fashion in Antwerp.
Unlike This is Antwerp, Fashion in Antwerp is something totally different. The Fashion in Antwerp app is not a practical tool, its main goal is to inspire people and guide them through fashionable Antwerp.
The application provides six routes through the city, each one of them with a specific theme:
- Historical Costume and Clothing
- The Birth of the Avant-Garde
- Antwerp – a Living Fashion City
- Fashion beyond Fashion
- The Style Hunter’s Guide
- The Essentials
Each one of these routes takes users through Antwerp, along spots that had or are still have a very important link to fashion in Antwerp. When they’re walking a route they get information about the selected spots, accompanied by pictures, but when they’re close to a spot, the user is able to unlock certain ‘extra’ information. This unique ghost info is only available when the user is actually in Antwerp, it gives them an extra level of experience. This unique content gives visitors views behind the scenes of ateliers, archives and places they are not able to see, for example, the fashion department is only open for students, ateliers of several designers. Above all, fashion professionals from all over the world give unique testimonials and tell users why Antwerp became a fashion capital.
The Fashion in Antwerp app has a different target group than This is Antwerp. It’s an application that is interesting for people that want to discover Antwerp as a fashion city. If you want, it appeals to those who already have a slight interest in fashion. In this way, you could say that it’s a niche application, but is that really a bad thing? It’s a mobile application with dedicated content for one specific target group. We know people come to Antwerp to experience fashion in various ways. We believe making these specific products add value to a trip to Antwerp.
The Fashion in Antwerp mobile application is a paid application. You pay €2,69 to get it on your Smartphone. We believe that the unique information is something people want to pay for. Visitors used to buy printed guides, now they are able to buy a mobile app that even gives them more unique views on the topic than a printed guide could ever do. We also believe that paying for an app implies its level of quality. If you pay for something, it must be worth the money, right? And believe me, if that wouldn’t be the case, reviews would keep you from buying it. The application is also available offline, so no roaming costs are involved for foreign visitors.
The biggest challenge here, in contrast with the This is Antwerp app, was the huge amount of research we did to get the story right. The routes through town, gathering information and pictures, copywriting, clear copyrights, … it was an really significant job. Together with two colleagues I worked intensely on this project for several months to bring it to a final version.
The good news is that we don’t need to change the content of this application every week. We selected the spots very carefully and made sure we worked together with loyal ambassadors. After a year some things need to be changed because a shop closed down, a specific designer moved out of Antwerp or a new, young designer graduated from the Antwerp Fashion Department and opened a new store. We are now making some new footage and will update the application very soon, but this is not that big a job like updating it every week.
However, budget must always be taken into account. Maintenance and updating costs a lot of money, you should be aware of this before you even start thinking about a mobile application. Make sure you keep a budget on the side for change requests.
So, I hope I was able to give you our perspective on this digital, mobile matter. I hope that it gives inspiration for other destinations to try and work out their own mobile strategy.
Now it’s time for me to focus on a new, mobile project, namely a new mobile website for Antwerp that we want to launch by the end of this year.
I’ll keep readers posted on how that goes!
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