Uros Crnigoj, Digital Marketing Manager for Ljubljana Tourism reveals their journey into mobile and the learnings along the way...
In Ljubljana, Slovenia, we have made quite a journey towards implementing mobile content in the last few years and I am now in the position to be able to proudly tell the story of what we have accomplished. Our road to success was not always easy or straightforward, and at times we were literally journeying toward the unknown. And today we continue to face quite a few important dilemmas and the next few years will be very interesting for us in this respect. So our journey is far from being over, but everyone involved in the project can already see the silver lining we have created.
The humble beginnings
For us the journey into the world of mobile started in 2009. That year we proudly launched the mobile version of our website and immediately faced a big dilemma.
Our mobile website was very simple, and of course optimized for minimum data consumption, featuring only a modicum of photos, all of them a maximum of only 100px in size. From day one, the website was set up so that our map service was generating compressed static images which served as geolocation points.
In a promotional capacity, we planned a billboard campaign with QR codes all over the city to coincide with the website launch, encouraging foreign visitors to start using our website from then on. However, we were warned by a notable telecommunications expert that it was an inappropriate time for such a campaign because the roaming costs in Slovenian mobile networks were simply too high. We decided to call the campaign off at that point.
On the city's municipal level there was already a very concrete idea of establishing a citywide Wi-Fi network, but it hadn't yet reached the operational stage.
Visit Ljubljana becomes an early adopter of responsive web design
By 2011, we were planning to upgrade our website to incorporate "adaptive design" and attempting to learn about different technical ways to achieve this as we proceeded. But in 2012, when the implementation started, most of them were scrapped in favor of brand new developments, such as HTML5 and CSS3.
In October 2012, when we finally launched the big upgrade to our website, it became one of the early adopters of responsive web design among European tourist destination websites. I'm proud to say that it stands the test of time today, and is still cited as a glowing example of best practice in the industry. As I write this, it's undergoing a partial redesign, which is largely intended to make its content more exciting. However, we don’t intend to change the user experience very much because it works extremely well.
WiFree Ljubljana - our city's free wireless network
One of the main reasons for going responsive so early was Ljubljana's plan to implement a free public wireless network called WiFree Ljubljana. In 2012 the project was in the final stage of implementation and it was finally launched in February 2013. The network, covering Ljubljana city centre - with further expansions planned in the next few years - allows visitors and residents to use free wireless internet for up to 60 minutes a day. However, access to websites owned by the City Municipality of Ljubljana, including our website, is free for an unlimited period of time.
What makes a responsive website perform well?
Our priority, when we created our responsive website, was that people would be able to use it during their stay in the destination. That's why the website works quite differently on its smallest version for use with smartphones than on larger screens. The geolocation, ‘nearby points of interest’ and search facility are brought to the forefront of the user experience with two additional icons, while the main menu of the website is relocated to the side of the screen, and is accessible through the three-line menu icon.
Most experts would say that delivering exactly the same content we have on our PC version of the website to mobile devices is in principle something to be avoided. However, I feel that if the content is well-structured and the points of interest are all accurately geolocated then it is both achievable and desirable. The solution to this dilemma is simply to apply responsive design to the project, as well as to implement an innovative way to arrange the existing content differently and appropriately on small screen sizes. Geolocation-based features are of utmost importance obviously, and search should always be considered of critical importance as well.
Visit Ljubljana and more - our mobile app
Many say you don't necessarily need to have a mobile app if you already have a good mobile website and I tend to agree with that. I think that a responsive website is a must for any destination while the app is not as important. Last time I was in Barcelona attending the Digital Innovation Campus, I talked to Andrea Kostner from Vienna Tourism Board about their famous no-app policy and I must say I agreed with her views. I think their approach is extremely sensible and works tremendously well.
Having said that, I'm still the one who ran the project of Ljubljana city guide app in 2013. How can this correlate with my opinion on the subject? Well, surprisingly it does. The point I'm trying to make here is that destinations are diverse by their very nature, and their approaches should be equally diverse. When you are Vienna, for instance, you can be sure that your visitors will mostly be using globally established apps like TripAdvisor or Lonely Planet when they visit our city. Thus, there is no pressing need to create your own in this context. However, when you are Ljubljana, you can be sure they won't use those apps, simply because they don't exist yet for our destination.
That's how we started our own app project, really. We checked out the app stores and for Ljubljana there was almost nothing really useful there at the beginning of 2013. So we decided to fill that gap, and at the same time seize the opportunity to establish our brand presence on those channels too. Of course, we still need to promote the app despite the fact that it's still the by far best city guide app for Ljubljana in terms of content. Surprisingly, we find that in-app advertising, which may seem intrusive to some of us, actually works best.
What we came up with in September 2013 was a typical city guide app featuring a relevant selection of content that can also be found on our website. This enabled us to providing a significantly better geolocation experience. Our app also allows its users to sync their MyVisit trip plans if they created them previously on our website, and also features an audio guide.
So we produced the app and we should be totally happy about it, but as I mentioned earlier, there are quite a few dilemmas we are considering right now. Firstly, there is the selection of content that we feature. Could it become even more relevant than it is now? What is the big difference between the website and the app in that respect? Lately there has been a lot of talk about niche interests and I'm among those who think that apps can serve those interests better than a website if they are properly focused. After all, they can get much closer to your personal wishes and needs just because their world is closer to the world of your smartphone than the web will ever be.
Then there are the features. For instance, we find that the MyVisit trip planner works very well within the website framework, but within the app (where we developed it to be even more streamlined and easy to use) it seems to be a bit redundant. The audio guide is another matter altogether as the app is an ideal environment for such content, much more so than for instance web podcasts, at least in my opinion.
So where do we go from here? There are many potential directions but several of them are definitely not right for us. That's the place in our story where I think the differences between the destinations shine through in a big way. For instance, it's a great idea to explore Stockholm through the sounds of music. We are accustomed to expect something like that from Stockholm, just as we are not surprised by something like fashion in Antwerp.
Such great ideas, successfully put to life, help shape our perception of the very living souls of cities. And in some cases, these ideas already have a powerful history. So, if Stockholm, the home of Abba, can sing "Thank you for the music" on our smartphone, and Antwerp can brand itself as the city of refined elegance, what will the big concept be in Ljubljana?
This is something we will identify and define as we reach the next stage of our mobile journey. So watch this space.
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