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As travel marketers become more aware of the importance of mobile to their marketing strategies, DMOs are regularly releasing apps in an attempt to tap into this growing marketplace. Recently a couple of notable DMOs have released apps with the intention of attracting travellers to their nations.

Thailand Tourism Authority releases tourist app

The Tourism Authority of Thailand has recently upgraded its digital tourism marketing strategy by releasing a new mobile application which is compatible with both Android and Apple iOS platforms. The “New Amazing Thailand” application offers user-friendly features intended to provide smartphone users with the latest tourist information on Thailand.

A particular focus of the app is offering people a variety of incentives to travel to Thailand. Thus, special tour and accommodation deals and a raft of attractive packages offered by hotels, tour operators and online travel-related businesses form the backbone of the “New Amazing Thailand” app. This emphasises the commercial opportunities that mobile platforms offer DMOs, and it is notable that this app is particularly focused on sharing content automatically via popular social networks such as Facebook and twitter.

Another interesting aspect of this new app is that the Tourism Authority of Thailand is embracing augmented reality. This is particularly intriguing as augmented reality is still a pretty niche technology, and it is also rather expensive to develop. Nonetheless, with virtual reality helmets on the way for both PC and video games platforms, in the shape of Oculus Rift and Project Morpheus, and Google Glass already established as something of a mainstream technology, we may see more augmented reality included in travel marketing in the near future.

The Digital Tourism Think Tank has already reported on this subject. But whether such an approach would pay off at this point in time is something that DMOs must consider carefully.

Elsewhere in the New Amazing Thailand app there is a Thai Live Cam, which enables tourists to view attractions associated with the nation in real-time. This is the sort of interactive feature which DMOs should look to implement with their marketing content.

Importance of images and videos

But the Tourism Authority of Thailand app is far from being perfect. The application features far too much text to be practical. Of course some writing is necessary, but it is generally preferable to illustrate points using absorbing photographs and videos. There have been several recent marketing campaigns that have emphasised this viral aspect of digital marketing, and the New Amazing Thailand app would be significantly improved by taking this on-board. The content is not well structured for an enjoyable user experience, and though there is some interesting material, DMOs must note that presentation is at least as important as the actual content.

Another recent mobile app release is the “Incredible India” application, which has been released by the Ministry of Tourism in India. This app is intended to enable both international and domestic tourists to access information about recognised service providers within the nation, as well as providing a raft of information on issues such as tourist transport operators, travel agents, regional level guides and classified hotels.

While this app acknowledges that so-called developing economies are recognising and acknowledging the importance of mobile technology in digital strategies, Incredible India has shot itself in the foot somewhat with regards to its pricing policy. Asking tourists to pay 69 pence for the app of a public sector organisation such as a tourist board is pretty shocking. And while people who have a real desire to acquire tourist information about India will still probably be interested in it, failing to offer a free app will surely deter some users.

Rising prominence of mobile

Mobile apps are a very valid form of promotion for the tourism industry, particularly given the increasing prominence of mobile commerce. It is predicted by Juniper Research that the e-commerce mobile market will be worth $3.2 trillion by 2017. Mobile is also particularly valuable to the tourism industry as travellerss can naturally gain access to content delivered by mobile devices during trips. This makes it faster and more convenient for tourists to access content via mobile platforms.

Additionally, it can be quicker for users to connect to apps directly via mobile, and there is even the potential to provide unique content through such platforms. For example, although desktop machines are embracing touchscreen technology, this is obviously an essential feature of both smartphones and tablets, and therefore it is often possible for mobile apps to deliver an intuitive experience that is impossible, or at the very least far less feasible, with desktop computing.

However, mobile acts should not be viewed as a silver bullet for tourism marketing. DMOs should bear in mind that mobile applications can be expensive to develop and promote. Developing one also places you within an extremely competitive market. Many destinations have already developed apps, and some are extremely innovative and inspirational, for example the acclaimed Visit Norway app.

DMOs need a key message

Developing a mobile app without having a key message and unique customer experience central to it can be damaging rather than beneficial for a destination. Ultimately you will be judged by the quality of your app, not the mere existence of it, and DMOs should not fall into the easy trap of assuming that simply developing an app is in itself a strategy. An app can form part of a cohesive strategy, but without this coherent approach it will in fact doing more harm than good.

Nonetheless, targeting travellers via mobile apps is a very valid approach, given that one-fifth of travel bookings are now made on mobile devices. Furthermore, over half of travellers, according to Google, now use a mobile device to research upcoming trips. Mobile is a great way to promote a destination, but it is always important to pay heed to the best way to develop them and learn from the examples of those destinations who have produced sub-par apps.

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