To App or not to App
Using mobile applications in destination marketing for small cities and remote destinations
There are thousands of tourist destinations around the world, from small tourist attractions to entire countries, from capitals to remote villages. Arguably, the most important quality of any tourist destination and all of its stakeholders is whether it is successful or not i.e., whether it accumulates more economic benefits than economic costs (Robinson, et.al, 2013). It is a fact that successful destinations are not only marketed in a modern, innovative and creative way, but also managed in the same manner (Morrison, 2013). Nowadays, efficient destination management and marketing requires more diverse skills in order to address the high competition and stand out from the rest. The proper usage and integration of modern technologies are one of the most important tools in this process. Therefore, the development of digital skills becomes crucial for successful destination management organisations (DMOs).
From Technologies to Tourism to Mobile Apps
Technological development has entered every aspect of people’s lifestyle, business and entire industries. Tourism is no exception, with all of its sub-sectors existing under the umbrella of tourist destinations. An example of such technology is mobile applications – ‘apps’ for short. In 2019, there were 3.83 billion apps available for download (Statista, 2019). The variety of apps used to plan every aspect before and during a trip to a destination is enormous. Apps range from finding and tracking flights (Kiwi, Hooper, etc.), booking accommodation (Airbnb, Hotels.com, HotelTonight, etc.), to navigating through airports, city maps, metro maps, tipping, organizing trips (tripIt), booking restaurants, currency convertors, foreign-language dictionaries, traveller safety (TripWhistle) and many more, or apps that have it all. The advantages of apps in travel and tourism are widely acknowledged and benefits for destinations are evidenced in the number of available apps for popular destinations e.g. Next Stop Paris, VisitLondon, New York Tourist Travel Guide, etc. Amsterdam is an interesting example because in addition to the official guide app for the city there are 14 more apps recommended to travellers (iamamsterdam.com). Apps definitely support destination marketing as they help provide quality, easy, comfortable and joyful experience for visitors, who become advocates of the destination and not only generate repeat visits but also increase future numbers of travellers.
Small Tourist Destinations: The Cost and Skills of tourist app
But what about remote cities, small cities and/or rural areas, which cannot afford to outsource the development of an app? Prices can range from 45,000 to 900,000 Euros and more, depending on the size and reputation of the company that develops it and the capabilities the app will have. What about special interest tourism, where booking a hotel, flight, car, excursion or city tour is not the primary reason to visit? A special interest traveller will need much more information about the local context and professionals in the type of tourism they want to participate in.
Small cities and rural areas are not primarily associated with mass tourism, but rather niche activities or special hobbies such as wine, food, eco-products, rural lifestyle, history, culture, caving, rafting, walking and trekking, bird watching and heritage. In this regard, remote destinations experience significant difficulties in marketing, especially when talking about the new tech-savvy tourists that demand mobile apps to get what they need in one tap (e.g. mAPP my Europe). In such a dynamic environment, small cities and remote destinations cannot afford to stay behind the competition. Therefore, there is a strong need for developing a proper application with relevant functions that corresponds to the specialized market and reach the market segments it is intended for. But who will pay for the development of a proper app, who will create the content and who will manage it?
Indeed, creating an app might be a costly venture for a small city or remote destination, but the return on this marketing investment must also be considered. Mobile apps serve as a powerful tool not only to bring people in, but also to make sure they experience the most of the destination in the most convenient way. Moreover, apps provide customer relationship software so DMOs can track comments, post news and keep visitors connected with the destination even when they have left. Neighbouring small cities and remote areas can develop a mutual app, which would decrease the cost per destination and generate greater interest from travellers as there will be greater possibilities for trips, visits, services, etc. Co-creation and coopetition (cooperation and competition) are widely used strategies to reach the desired goal of small tourist destinations such as an increase in visitor numbers (Richards & Duif, 2019). Speaking of co-creation, all companies that form the full tourism product experience, such as accommodation, attractions, transport, food and beverage, craft shops etc. can assist in the development of a mutual app, sharing the costs and benefits.
It is important for small destinations to find tourism professionals with the required digital skills, application developers with destination management and marketing skills, or to form a team of both that will work together. Due to this, specific skills for developing “a” mobile application like mobile user interface design, cross-platform app development, backend computing, modern Language programming, business capability (Toth, 2017) should become a necessary part of tourism education in destination management. This is an objective of the Next Tourism Generation Alliance to create the first European Blueprint strategy and educational toolkit, in order to enhance the development of digital, green and social skills for tourism employees in the future.
To App or Not To App
Creating a mobile app might be a costly venture for a small city or remote destination, but it is worth it given the expected enhanced image and increased popularity. Therefore, “to app or not to app” is a question with a predicted answer for all destinations. Still, the elaboration and preparation of mobile apps should start with the development of the proper digital skills among the DMOs and other tourism professionals.
By Irena Erbakanova from Varna University of Management