Online consumer trends and customer behaviour in travel and tourism have shifted markedly in recent years.

Destination management organisations not only need to engage users before they come to the region, but ensure their overall experience is maximised throughout a visit - giving them plenty of reasons to become advocates once they return home.

As much as you can research before making a trip, tourists now crave easy access to information once they actually arrive. It’s great being able to offer this through a website or social media accounts, but apps are becoming increasingly more popular in allowing users to surface information as and when they need it.

The pocket companion

There are an increasing number of destination-specific applications available for download, and it’s no surprise why. Tourists want information, in the palm of their hand, as soon as they arrive in a city. They want to know where the best attractions are, where the top-rated restaurants are, how to get around the city, amongst much more.

You’ll find a ton of applications for the most popular cities around the world; London, Paris, New York, San Francisco - search for any through your chosen app store and you’ll find comprehensive city guides, subway maps, sightseeing tips, etc.

What’s surprising, however, is how underrepresented less popular cities are, or how few ‘official’ apps there for destinations that don’t regularly appear in ‘Top 20’ lists.

It’s often left to third-party providers to bridge this gap; however, there is a huge opportunity for tourism organisations to harness their official capacity to achieve user buy-in to encourage long-term advocacy.

An experience visitors deserve

A one-stop-solution that contains all the information visitors need and desire, which they would usually have to navigate across multiple sources to obtain, will encourage further exploration and discovery; ultimately strengthening the likelihood of advocacy.

Core features, incorporated in line with the most common user requirements, can range from maps, local amenity guides, day planners, real-time event listings, walking routes, etc. Social media integration is commonplace too, allowing users to share posts and images - exposing the destination to much wider audiences through visitors on-the-ground.

Phil Williams, our head of technical consultancy, gave us his thoughts on the effectiveness of this approach:

“Expecting users to simply use your website as an information resource when they arrive at a destination can be risky; it’s easier to instead use Google to search for something in particular, while your site then just becomes one tab amongst many in a browser.

“A dedicated mobile application, however, cements your presence firmly on their smartphone – right in their pocket. It can also deliver so much more native functionality, such as GPS-enabled mapping. This, for example, allows users to see which amenities are close to them, how far away their hotel is, which walking routes are most suitable for them, amongst much more.”

We asked Paul Rafter, one of our technical consultants, to explain how a tourism app works alongside a client’s existing website:

“A dedicated application should fit seamlessly with your existing approach, not burden your team with having to manage more content. Similar solutions that we’ve developed integrate with an existing website, whereby data feeds allow for selected content to be pulled through; a dedicated mobile back-end can then be used to manage app-specific content and how it’s presented to users.

“With modern tourists in mind, it’s important to ensure that the solution is easy-to-use and content is structured intelligently. It also needs to work offline, as international travellers may not always have access to wi-fi. This can be achieved by ensuring that content is cached correctly and core features function without the need of an internet connection.”

Next, our head of planning Catherine Rigby explains the importance of the real-time visitor experience:

“Individuals will use a host of online resources in the sources and planning phase of any trip they’re looking to make. But behaviours shift once they actually arrive, where a visitor will demand as few resources as possible in being able to seamlessly surface information around a destination.

“A dedicated destination app should draw the most desired information, based on thorough insight into audience requirements. This will not only greatly enhance their real-time experience, it’ll mean that they’re more likely to become long-term advocates; both encouraging friends and family to visit and returning themselves.”

Long-term approach

Even after an individual has returned home, an app can play an important role in maintaining an open channel of communication, encouraging advocacy and, ultimately, repeat visits. Push notifications, for example, can be used to relay key messaging, while ensuring that new information is constantly available is a great way of maintaining long-term user engagement.

As part of the overarching approach taken to destination marketing, the quality of the real-time visitor experience on offer simply cannot be overlooked.