Ever wondered if a mobile app could work for your destination? Worried it might compete with your website or visitors guide? A mobile travel app might be worth thinking, or re-thinking about it. Some of our DMOs are using updatable mobile travel apps to enhance their print visitors guides and improve visitor experience in-market and to promote events and bring business to local partners; they’ve even got their eye on revenue generation opportunities. But don’t just take our word for it.

Geoffrey Schultz, our Director of VisitApps, hosted a Summit 2017 session titled “Weaving Mobile Apps into your Digital Marketing Mix.” Patrick Lennon, Director of Marketing for Visit Fairfax, and Zach Brown, Online Marketing/Research Manager for the Valley Forge Tourism & Convention Board, joined Geoffrey, providing valuable DMO insight into how to use, promote, and optimize mobile apps for visitor engagement, event promotion, and business generation.

Visit Fairfax’s Mobile Visitors Guide

Visit Fairfax’s Patrick Lennon, Director of Marketing, said they chose to use their travel app as a mobile version of their visitors guide. They plan to use it to promote seasonal content and to make suggestions for those in-market.

The DMO has no plans to get rid of their printed travel guide, however. “People love it,” said Patrick, also pointing out that the printed guide still provides substantial fulfillment.

“The one thing this app does that our visitors’ guide will never be able to do,” Patrick adds, “…it helps them navigate (by car). This is a huge benefit for us.”

The DMO promoted the app through their visitor center, at hotel front desks, and through cards distributed with hotel keys. “This is one of the most successful ways we promoted in-market,” said Patrick. To their hotel partners, providing the app option to their guests enhanced the guest’s visit.

“It’s mainly educating our partners,” noted Patrick. “It costs them nothing to talk about it, but it benefits the visitors.”

When asked by a session attendee if partners were adding their own info through the extranet or otherwise, or was the DMO doing that front-end work, Patrick responded that they have approximately 2,000 partners using the app, with some stakeholders adding information, which is preferable. “They update their information in one place,” Patrick said, noting that there is seamless distribution between the website and the CRM.

“Everything integrates perfectly with our CRM,” said Patrick.

To further promote the app, Visit Fairfax also started a tourism ambassador program that teaches tourism entities about the app. They distributed a welcome email promoting the app. Facebook ads were the only paid social they used for promotion, said Patrick.

As for their continued use of the app, “We want to think outside of the box about how to use this,” commented Patrick. They particularly see the value in promoting unique details about their destination, rather than just providing listings. “People can drown in listings,” said Patrick.He gave the example that instead of just delivering 400 restaurant listings, they can provide focused content like, “Visit these top 15 restaurants in the area.”

“People like easily digestible content. We don’t want to overwhelm them, we want to inspire them,” said Patrick.“We, as DMOs, it’s our job to inspire people.”

Patrick Lennon’s advice to DMOs for using VisitApps:

  • Push notifications are the equivalent of a subject line in an email. The purpose is to get people to open the message. Geoffrey Schultz of VisitApps agrees. He suggests using the best content possible and using the title well as a draw to open it. “Keep it brief and brilliant.”
  • The key is regular communication to get good, worthwhile information. For example, “We tell our partners, if you have a special deal, you can work with us to give a push notification that they (visitors) can use to redeem the offer.” He points out that this is measurable, and allows for instant feedback to stakeholders that this works.
  • In order to further your brand, reach out to people to get them to continue using the app.Reach out locally. Talk to the residents. “Be genuine and funny and speak the truth to residents,” Patrick suggests. “It gets back to the entertainment factor. Talk to them in a human way to build trust. Start off someone’s day with a smile.”
  • There are all kinds of opportunities to use the app. Visit Fairfax is considering packaging push notifications with DTN ads, for instance, essentially monetizing the app.

Valley Forge Tourism & Convention Board’s Sports Playbook

Valley Forge chose to use their app as an event promotion tool, in particular, a Sports Playbook.

At first, though, they didn’t see the use for an app. “Why have people download an app, when I am being measured on the number of people visiting the website?” said Zach Brown, Online Marketing/Research Manager for the Valley Forge Tourism & Convention Board.

However with their event app, they aren’t measuring by downloads (they have just short of 1000 downloads, but it fluctuates, with more downloads during tournaments), but by how the app is bringing in business, he said. “We continue to use it to drive sales more so than downloads,” said Zach.

You see, when the DMO heard a large sports event was coming to town, they wanted a way to interact with those participants. They set up their app to feature a shuttle schedule, show the hours of operation of gyms and spas that the participants needed to utilize and to send push notifications.

“We rely a lot on our partners for this app,” Zach said. “It’s something they asked for.” The app pulls listings from the DMO website via the Simpleview integration, provides information on partner/advertiser schedules, and suggests in-market activities like where to go to dinner with the team after the tournament. “One (event) organizer spiked app downloads by running a contest,” added Zach.

The DMO promotes the app in person. “We have someone on site at these events to talk about the app,” said Zach.

They have since replicated the app for other events, whether smaller or larger tournaments, weightlifting events or basketball tournaments, new or repeat business. They learned by working with tournament organizers what worked and what to do differently. For example, if an organizer felt schedules changed too often to keep updated on the app, they would replace the schedule on the app with other information the next time around. The DMO realizes that if the app is useful, repeat tournaments will be repeat business.

Two VisitApps feature use cases from Zach Brown:

  • Push notifications can be used to promote special deals from partners. Tournament partners—for example, a sports retailer, in the case of the Sports Playbook app—offer special deals to those visiting for the tournament/event and promote push notifications for a specific event.
  • VisitApps’ geo-targeting for push notifications can be very helpful because, with sports, multiple events can sometimes be taking place at once. At the same time, being a large county, Montgomery can bring in multiple events at once, too. Geotargeting allows the DMO to focus push notifications, said Zach.

Geoffrey Schultz’s insider tips and insights:

  • While push notifications are unlimited, Geoffrey suggests sending no more than one a week. Again, “keep it brief and brilliant.”
  • About 1% of your target market is a reasonable starting goal for downloads. That can be boosted if it’s part of the DMO’s KPIs. (Remember, downloads were less important to Valley Forge, who uses the app to drive business.)
  • Enhancements to meet DMOs evolving needs are in the works, such as a feed through to the benefits summary and deeper app analytics tracking.

Session Takeaways:

  • Proactive promotion is important. You have to give people incentive to download.
  • Push messages are powerful, especially while visitors are in-market, particularly when calling out redeemable promotions.
  • Specific focus is preferable. Target your content.