Hey folks and valued readers. It has been a few days since I posted and I just wanted to let you know that there have been some changes in my career, but that I am still around and will continue to share my thoughts and interests in this blog.
After 8 years it was time for a move from Geosmart and I have now joined a relatively new company called Imersia as CCO. Imersia was founded in 2009 by entrepreneurs Dr Roy Davies and Jon Lowther, a couple of very clever guys with ideas about the world we live in and the world we want to live in, similar to mine.
In a nutshell we are working in location based services, mobile, Augmented Reality, proximity based marketing, GPS and more across a wide variety of industries with a local flavour, i.e. the business is based in New Zealand and we would like it to stay that way if possible, but a global focus. Effectively I am walking the talk, I have spent many years consulting and evangelising, I’m still doing that, but also much more on the creating side, at least from a company perspective, I’m not a developer myself.
So stick around, don’t delete your RSS feed because I still have lots of exciting ideas, if I say so myself, about leading the way into the future we want, from a technology perspective, but also about the kind of world we want for our families and future generations, cool toys and business tools as well as a safe and sustainable environment. I am ever the idealist.
New Zealand is full of clever people and I am hoping we can enable more of them to take part in the global stage. I’m keen to see some new names appear in the lists of Kiwi innovators contributing to our GDP and being supported by our Government. I love names like Tait Electronics (I spent 7 happy years working for them), Gallagher Electronics and Fisher & Paykel, but isn’t it time for some new kids on the block?
If I had only one application to use on my road trip it would be tripadvisor. Having said that it wasn’t enough on my road trip although I spent more time using this app than any other. I put a lot of planning into the trip before hand and contacted US State Tourism organisations asking for information. Only Tennessee came back to me with a booklet including useful maps of the whole state and things to do, places to see, which was great. I filled it with post it flags.
Using Trip Advisor at one of the many hotels I stayed at last month
All tourist organisations have material like this book, but they don’t make it easy to access and they don’t appear to collaborate interstate. This is a major negative for a traveller on a road trip that regional tourist operators in New Zealand and Australia should also think about. I managed to get a similar book for Louisiana when I arrived in New Orleans, which looked like it was designed by the same company. I was lucky that the property we stayed in had one in the room. Otherwise you need to find an Information Centre, but of course these aere widely spread out and you need info to find one.
The biggest problem was that these books were segmented by town or county and not well linked to the main map. They were designed more for people who are looking at locating themselves in a town for a holiday and exploring from there. Also the maps for each state ended strictly on the state line, so if there was something worth enjoying on the other side, it wasn’t going to be on the map. This makes it really difficult to plan a multi state holiday. It would be far better for State and Regional Tourism Operators to work together to mutual benefit. I’m going to cross the line whether you make it easy for me or not.
So back to tripadvisor. If you install it on your mobile or iPad it will help you find Accommodation, Restaurants, Flights and Things To Do, sometimes. What I found was that they worked pretty well in cities, which was the same case with apps such as Foursquare and others, but when you go to rural USA, which was my plan for 3 weeks, the information tends to be more limited to accommodation and sparse when it comes to the many interesting attractions that people have put huge effort into but leave most people blissfuly unaware of them.
My main use for tripadvisor was accommodation and this was really interesting. When you travel through rural America there is a huge variety of accommodation options from very cheap to very expensive. The great thing about it is that it is full of reviews from people who have stayed at those properties. Reviews is something that scare the hell out of tourism industry publishers who charge people to list on their publications, websites, reservation engines etc and in New Zealand some property operators have complained about competitors giving them bad reviews, therefore saying the systems don’t work.
My message to them is that I trust my peers more than I trust advertising, especially those who have stayed at the properties. When you do advertise, make sure you are honest and deliver on your promise. When you say you have high speed WiFi Access throughout the property, make sure you do because this could be the deciding factor as to why someone books and stays with you and the one negative if it doesn’t work, that they will tell the world about.
For the app user:
Read many reviews. Look at the dates they were posted and read them carefully. Often there are unique stories where the person had unique needs or expectations that were not met. The more reviews you read, the more you will get the real big picture. Some people are unreasonable or feel that if they are doing a review they have to find fault. Do other people contradict their comments or are there common threads?
Think about what your needs and time frames are. For example I got a cheap hotel for one night in New Orleans as we were arriving at 1AM and leaving again first thing in the morning. The review said it was clean and tidy but the air conditioning was noisy. They were right, but we knew we were going to be so tired after 30 hours of traveling that it wouldn’t keep us awake and the price and location was good.
We ended up rating properties based on the things we were looking for and canceling out any that looked dodgy, for example several had complaints about bed bugs.
We were able to ‘star’ the ones we thought were ok for a re-look.
We also looked for situations where people had complained and the manager of the property came back and offered solutions and responses. In some cases there were managers who responded to every comment good and bad.
The problem is that there are many options and when you are doing a road trip and trying to find attractions etc, you can easily waste hours of what should be relaxation time on your trip, but this is one of the costs of being a FIT.
Tripadvisor offers many choices of reservation engines and price checks. I quickly found that once I had found a property I liked, a phone call to their front desk not only got me a cheaper price than all of the reservation sites, but also cooperation on a better room. Many properties will put you in a crappy room next to the laundry, the road or the busy swimming pool when you get a cheap online booking. If someone recommends a room number and their review sounds like what you are looking for, ask for that room.
Tips for the Tourist Operator:
Your property is likely to end up in tripadvisor whether you submit it or not.
People will talk about your property whether you like it or not. Most of them will be bona-fide guests who benefited from the application and are therefore sharing their experience.
Put yourselves in their shoes. Your business is about hospitality and for your guest it is totally personal. Treat them as you would your family.
When people make a comment about your business, good or bad, acknowledge and respond to it.
If you sell rooms cheap on reservation engines don’t automatically give them the crappy room that you never sell if there are better rooms that are going to stay empty. I had a property in Auckland, Sebel Suites, do that to me early this year. They said they could only give me a room with a view of the carpark, because I had booked
on a cheap promotion. The thing was that they didn’t sell many of the nice rooms overlooking the beautiful Auckland Viaduct Basin that night (I followed up the next morning), but if they had, it wouldn’t have been fair to the people who paid full price. So here’s my advice to them, which the Duty Manager didn’t want to hear. I live on the outskirts of Auckland. I have the choice to go home, but sometimes my wife and I like to go to a show, or out for a night, have a few drinks and not have to worry about driving home. We have stayed in many properties in Auckland. We have told all of our friends and tripadvisor which ones we liked and which ones we felt let us down. We will never again go to the Sebel Suites, we will go back to hotels like the Sky City Grand which has some great promotions on their site. As I said, it travel and tourism is personal.
Make sure your business is on sites and apps like TripAdvisor.
Bottom line, I almost hated tripadvisor by the end of my holiday because we became almost fanatic about reading the reviews. We found the star ratings didn’t help much and whilst there was a function to save the ones we wanted to revisit, we couldn’t also flag the ones to avoid. We spent a huge amount of time on the site, BUT in every location we found exactly what we expected. We knew which rooms to avoid, and quickly learned to read between the lines.
For developers, this is an excellent site / application to learn from, not perfect but very good, even using your location on your mobile to help you find locations. For users, do give back. If you value crowd sourced feedback and make decisions based on it, you need to give back as well. If you are in New Zealand or Australia, talk to us at GeoSmart. We can help you with practical experience as both frequent travellers and users of apps and a mapping company that cares very strongly about the quality of our location-based data, maps, Points of Interest and the success of applications developed using it. We are local and keen to help. If you are here, but aiming for the world, we can help you get a start based on what we know about the industry and our experience as travelers. We want to help grow New Zealand international success stories.
Planning a road trip somewhere or know somene who is? The may be interested in this series of blogs, which they can find at https://luigicappel.wordpress.com Please feel free to forward this to anyone you think may benefit from it. I wish I had been given a lot of this advice before I left for my trip.
I will follow this up with some ideas as to what would have made tripadvisor a better app for the road tripper, which may be of interest to people looking at developing apps for travel and tourism and am happy to discuss my ideas and experience.
So when you do it all yourself, the first things you start worrying about are whether the bookings you made will be honored. I printed off 2 copies of everything including copies of our passports because there is always the risk that your luggage will not arrive at the same place as you do. I emailed copies to myself as well so I could access them from a variety of sources as well.
Some properties are really good at responding to your requests and others seem to have all the technology but really don’t manage it very well. I once arrived, excited to be at the Pink Flamingo in Las Vegas, booked through a travel agent who through time zones were asleep, when the front desk told me they had no record of my booking and were full with a conference. After a lot of pressure they found me a room for one night and then I was on my own, so I have reason to be cautious. When I booked my first night’s accommodation at the Days Inn at New Orleans Airport using the Booking.com app on my iPad, I requested a quiet room and confirmation that they would pick me up at the airport when I arrived at the airport. I didn’t get confirmation, so I rang them a couple of days before I left. They told me to call from the airport when I arrived. No problem there.
Another thing I would recommend if you are going on a long trip and have kids or family at home you need to stay in touch with, is to arrange free-calling from home to the country you are going to. I have that set up with Orcon already for my music business. Effectively from home anyone can call any number on the USA, including mobiles for up to one hour at a time. We used that a lot.
I also tried a few VOIP / Mobile apps for low-cost communication. The one we used daily was Voxer. They promote their application as a Walkie Talkie and one of its key features is a push to talk function. The nice thing is that the other person doesn’t actually have to be there or respond straight away. It also allows you to send photos and TXT messages without using the mobile phone system, so much cheaper. It was also an easy way to let them know to call us.
One of the things I found when I did my research on how I was going to be able to plan our trip on a daily basis was which properties had applications of their own, such as for Apple devices. In most cases what I found was that a very large number of properties in the hospitality and tourism industry had very nice brochureware applications. They seem to be typically template driven, designed to keep the cost down, but the weakness with most of them was that once the property had set up the application, or paid a developer to do it for them, they forgot all about it and didn’t keep them up to date. This reminded me very much of the tourism industry in general when it comes to web sites. It doesn’t inspire people to visit the property which is surely the reason they pay for them in the first place. I also found that hardly any of them took advantage of the ability to use the GPS in Smartphones and provide directions based on your location.
I suspect that many destinations do not appreciate the number of people using Smartphones and web applications and also the fact that those people are typically at the higher income level and the type of customers they want visiting their business.
One that really impressed me big time was Oak Alley Plantation in Vacherie, Louisiana. Not far from New Orleans. I was keen to enjoy some history about plantation life and slavery and based on their web presence, booked 2 nights in a historic Doctors House, which was restored to original condition, supplemented by a massive spa bath, cable TV and air conditioning.
The Doctor’s Cabin
They have a great website, excellent iPhone and Android applications, which are well worth downloading and trying out even if you don’t go there, because they are excellent examples of getting it right. They also have a Facebook page, are on Pinterest, YouTube and much more. Many of these pages are updated daily and their use of social media and location is matched by their professionalism when you visit. It is little wonder that they do exceptionally good business. Anyone looking at how to grow their destination business could do well to use them as an example.
There are several plantations in the area, but this one is by far the busiest and I am sure it is their use of technology combined with Southern hospitality and attention to detail at all levels that gets random people like me from the other side of the world to visit. If you are in Australia or New Zealand and want to do something similar, we have partners at GeoSmart who can assist, but you do need to understand that setting up applications and pages are the start, not the end. It is not build it and they will come, it is about maintaining it consistently and engaging with people. This will come up again and again during this series of blogs about road trips and FIT tourists and travellers.
Have you ever noticed that whatever application people come up with, you are always hungry for the next big thing? Well I am, especially when it comes to mobility and location based applications. I and several of my friends and associates tend to look 5 years into the future on a regular basis and are always looking to innovate with features or technology that either doesn’t exist yet, is still too expensive, or the target market still doesn’t get it. That’s probably where we will always live.
The good thing about that is that as a consequence of our focus, the building blocks for the things we dream about become much more apparent to us when they arrive and we want to share those things with you.
There were 2 standouts for me this week. The first is that Foursquare is launching push at their hackathon which starts tomorrow. You can read more about this on my GeoSmart blog. Basically it means that developers from tomorrow will be able to use an API that sends a push notification for users of their apps. For example a bar could send a notification to you telling you that there are friends of yours in the bar and offer you a deal to come and join them.
I’ve met with a number of people developing location based games and the game element is a factor that I believe will really pull people in. I have just downloaded TapCity onto my iPhone and iPad after watching a podcast video interview on Untether.tv (one of my favourite location based podcasts) with Dave Bisceglia co founder and CEO of The Tap Lab. I strongly recommend that you watch this video or listen to the audio version if you are interested in location based games or proximity based marketing. These guys have big plans and dreams and I believe they are going to be a huge success. I have to also mention how impressed I was with their response to a couple of questions I had from them.
If you join the game, you will find I have 2 personae, Luigi C and Claes C, mainly because I first set it up on my iPad and then found that it was more suited to my iPhone. Anyway try out the app which you can download in the iTunes Appstore for free, friend me and tell me what you think. I was pretty impressed that for a relative start up, they already have players all over the world, in fact someone already owns my office! I won’t settle for that, but was impressed that it was even there.
The concepts are all very well, but if you want to look at proximity based marketing, location based games etc as part of your marketing plan, the best way is to experience what someone else is doing. As you will learn in the interview or on their website, this is just the beginning for them. They have some very exciting plans. What I don’t know as yet is whether they plan to release API’s or whether all their development is going to be inhouse.
Either way we can learn a lot from these people. I hope they are hugely successful in monetizing their games both for their innovatio and foresight and to show everyone else that this can work. If they can sell virtual items in the same way as Zynga has on Farmville, then imagine what Burgerfuel, Borders, your regional tourism operator, world cup events like rugby organisors could do with real items!
Continuing my search into what happened at Whitcoulls and Borders and generally what’s going on with New Zealand retailers I am finding no surprises, which is a real worry. Two words come up a lot. Technology and Australia. I know a little of both. I live for technology and have trained many retailers over the years (including some who were already millionaires) and while the technology has changed, the principles haven’t. More on this to come.
Australia and New Zealand
As to Australia. In the 90’s many Australasian retailers who had New Zealand operated subsidiary chains based in New Zealand, decided to do away with local country management, local buyers etc. and to save lots of money by treating their NZ shops as Australian branches. I guess they considered New Zealand as a slightly bigger Tasmania. Not huge, but worth having, especially if they didn’t put much effort into senior staffing resources.
When performance decreased they blamed the economy, they said that NZ was just an over inflated state and it was always going to be that way, which was how they justified reducing local resources in the first place. The fact is while we may have a lot in common, we are not the same. We are made up of different cultures and history and have subtle differences in our lifestyles. Subtle enough that you can’t treat NZ stores the same as Australian stores and expect the same result.
Similar scenarios happened in many cases with the decades of American Globalisation. It’s funny really that America wanted to change Japan and the rest of Asia Pacific while Japan wanted to change the west. I well remember having discussions with senior management of Casio in Tokyo and Hamura about improving the software on their cash registers. One of the issues was that they hadn’t allowed for people pressing buttons in the wrong sequence. Have you ever been in a retail store when the ECR (Cash Register) is bleeping loud noises no matter what buttons are pushed and the stress it caused the cashier? Their initial response was “They must use the ECR in the right way or you should find better customers”. We ended up beta testing their software in NZ and Australia first and then getting Japan to tweak their software. That was one of the initiatives that helped us get 70% market share in the ECR market in NZ and helped Casio increase theirs around the world. But then of course the company I worked for was sold and I along with my boss and several other great people were made redundant despite the fact that we were doing really well, but because they thought we were earning too much. I’d love to know what their market share is in NZ now. I know it isn’t 70%. Anyway I’m going off on a tangent.
The big thing I noticed in the NZ stores was inventory management. They were carrying a lot of books that I wouldn’t think anyone would buy other than as a joke. I went back to Borders a week ago to jot some of the names down, but it looks like they went in the $1, $2, $5 sale and were gone. They had many dated books especially computing which must have been in store for several years, technical books on how to use software that almost no one has used in the last 5 years.
From what I’ve been told, someone automated the purchasing software to replace books that had sold, so for example if a particular book sold really well, say 5,000 copies, the system would replace with another 5,000 copies. Well there goes the profit from the first lot.
One of the things that makes New Zealand different is our ethnic communities. All over New Zealand, but particularly in Auckland we have clusters of ethnic communities; Chinese, Korean, South African, Indian, Pacific Islanders and more. Brands who fail to take that into consideration waste massive levels of stock by having the wrong product in the wrong locations, which then becomes shop soiled and potentially unsaleable.
Inventory needs to be managed locally by category managers who understand and are at the leading edge of their category and who understand their local market. They need to know weekly what is going on and understand who their customers are and what they are buying. Some books date more quickly than others and need to be moved on quickly, others will hold their value longer, but will still have a rapid half life.
In my previous blog about Whitcoulls and Borders I wrote about how they could follow the example of Amazon and know what their individual repeat customers were buying and therefore their interests and could recommend books to them. Amazon continue to prove that people in NZ will buy based on recommendations along the lines of “You bought these 3 books, other people who bought the same books also enjoyed the following titles”. Not only do we often buy them, but we also pay massive freight costs to get them here, at the same time as local book retailers are discounting stock that people aren’t buying. How smart is that?
One good way of dealing with this is using Business Analytics or Business Intelligence tools such as BIonaMAP, soon to be launched by New Zealand geospatial solution provider, GeoSmart. Fortunately for retail chains, this product will support both Australia and New Zealand, so users can have visibility over both countries.
I’ve just got back from a break in Rarotonga, which was a wonderful place to visit for peace and rest. It was thought provoking even though thought was not high on my agenda.
I finished a piece of music I had been working on and called it Rarotonga, which you can find on Youtube and my About Songwriting blog. While there I attended a wonderful gospel church service where I had some great singing. This was followed by a bountiful morning tea put on by the open generosity of the locals.
Most of the church service was in Rarotongan Maori, however 2 words that I did understand were Climate Change. In a country where most of the land is very close to sea level this is a real challenge. You need to spend a little time on a South Pacific Island to understand what is at risk.
The one thing you must do when visiting a new country is visit with the people. 3 things stood out:
1. Everyone expressed their gratitude that we visited and explained that their country was entirely dependent on tourism.
2. Every person had at least 2 or 3 jobs and good pay was considered to be about US5 an hour. Other than Sunday’s, most people would be working 12+ hour days.
3. There was a sub economy operating below the cash economy. People trade goods or services. It might be people swapping fish for Taro or playing music in return for food and the ability to promote and sell merchandise such as CD’s.
As you do, when you deliberately disconnect from the grid, you catch up with reading and I got to reading up on Life Inc by Douglas Rushkoff. One of his arguments is that the world’s economies are driven by corporations, banks and other large entities who perhaps care more about themselves and keeping communities reliant on them than helping the people they serve gain any level of independence.
I was blown away by some of the examples of alternative trading systems he came up with, although I don’t know why. Barter as a concept is probably as old as mankind, but a new economy seems to be reemerging in innovative ways. I’ve known doctors who accepted fish or other produce from patients who couldn’t afford to pay fees in New Zealand. I’ve known plenty of people who share their specialties, a plumber who does work on an electricians home and the electrician is owed a favor by a motor mechanic who then does a job for the plumber for free. The traditional economy still gets revenue from the parts that are used, which includes all the traders and of course tax in all its forms.
From a business point of view, I use Bartercard and they are a great organisation who I recommend. They have Bartercard Maps which uses GeoSmart Maps technology to help you find what you need based on location. However, fundamentally it is still a form of currency and our accounts department and Inland Revenue treat it no different than cash. In some cases, such as accommodation I also sometimes feel that the product you get is a little less quality than you would get if you were paying cash.
One good thing about Bartercard I like is that it is local, at least it encourages companies to use local suppliers. Despite our position, I feel many organisations in NZ from Government Departments through to consumers do not consider supporting their local economy as a major factor in making purchasing decisions.
I don’t want to go into any real detail about the examples in Rushkoff’s book, because that’s what the book is for and you might want to read it. There are some great deals on Amazon. I don’t think you’ll find it in your local bookstore.
Here’s a couple of cool examples.
CSA or Community Shared Agriculture. The concept is that people not only commit to buying their produce from a particular local farm, but they even commit to doing a small amount of work on it to help support it. This gives some security to the local farmer, but also helps build local community spirit and has people involved and doing something they would not normally do in their daily lives.
In Japan, the Sawayaka Welfare Foundation came up with a ‘complementary currency’ where young people could earn credits for taking care of elderly people. Those credits, called Fureai Kippu can then be applied to the care of their own elderly relatives who may live in a different part of the country. Because it is by the people and for the people, many say that the standard of support they get is far better than if it was provided by commercial caregivers.
The book also has lots of ideas about local loyalty programs that serve to build greater loyalty to local traders and creates stronger community feeling, which can and should apply to any town or village. The people who work, have restaurants or businesses near your home, are your neighbors. We are often too quick to go and give profit to multinationals, when we could be supporting our local businesses and then complain when our potential customers don’t use our services.
To a degree this blog was motivated by my trip to Rarotonga and the music I wrote which you can listen to below. But it is also out of concern for our future. New Zealand, like Rarotonga runs the risk of becoming isolated. If a war were to strike overseas and our imports (including oil products, food, clothing and technology) how well prepared are we to continue living to the standard we are accustomed to? People in Rarotonga told us about the island running out of fuel for a few days and the chaos that ensued. How long would we continue our lifestyle without petrol and diesel?
First of all I must apologise for the Blogfade. Over the last few weeks I’ve bought a new house and sold my own one which has caused a lot of stress and taken a lot of my time. Assuming that my sale goes through tomorrow, I wil be moving this weekend and life will get back to normal.
I’ve been busy on a lot of projects lately, one of which has been working on developing channels for GeoVector’s World Surfer product.
Worldsurfer is a location based application that runs on iPhone 3GS and Android mobiles which incorporate both GPS and Compass, which opens up a whole new world of possibilities.I have to say that even though the G1 I’m using currently is 1st generation Android, the combination of GPS and Compass is remarkably accurate. I suspect it is also using cell tower triangulation. It has my street address exactly correct even though I am inside my lounge, whereas my old phone using just Vodafone cell towers had my kitchen in one suburb and my lounge in another and I assure you my house is not that big.
The concept for this solution is that it provides for Location Based ‘Channels’ which allow you to search for Points of Interest based on your present location. A Channel is typically a category of POI (Points of Interest).
On the G1 that I am using at the moment I have the New Zealand channels that are currently available here. The first is GeoSmart, for whom I am the Sales & Marketing Manager.
GeoSmart is the company providing API’s, web services and web maps behind many leading web sites in NZ and services in many other countries. The best known site is AA Maps, which also now features real time traffic covering all of New Zealand. The GeoSmart Channel on Worldsurfer for NZ includes a nationwide set of categories and subcategories currently covering Accomodation, Banks and ATM’s, Entertainment, Parks and Gardens, Pubs Taverns and Bars, Restaurants, Takeaway Food and Public Toilets.
You can set it to only look in a band in the direction you are pointing your phone or in a 360 degree radius from your current location and it will locate POI up to 5 miles / 8km away. So in effect you can look for a Japanese Restaurant in the direction you are currently travelling. When you select one, the compass will point you in the direction of that venue and show a running distance calculation as you travel towards it.
You then have the option to call them for a reservation with one touch of the screen, get turn by turn directions and a map to guide you, mark the location for future reference, check Flickr, YouTube or Google for more information about the location.
World Surfer is as it sounds an international product and will automatically open the options available for the country you are in. Some are subscription channels whilst others are available free of charge.
Other channels available in New Zealand currently are Google, Zenbu, Wikipedia (which looks for information by location, based on pointing your mobile), Starbucks, and Vodafone Stores. I am currently working on developing many more channels for NZ. There are other exciting projects on the way, but if I tell you what they are, I’d be in big trouble, so watch this space.
As a footnote, I’ve said before that I would like to create an application called Where’s My Car, because everyone has a story of not being able to remember where they parked their car. I often see people in shopping mall car parks, at rugby matches and other spots wandering up and down trying to figure out where their cars are. When I got this Android phone (on loan) I found an application called CarDar Light.
This application lets you ‘mark’ the location of your car as you park it and will then guide you, even inside a car park, to your car. You can enter the level number or colour of the floor as an assist, but after that you will never lose your car again.
For a demonstration of WorldSurfer check out the YouTube video below:
Another step of the future which pretty much dates back to the original Star Trek TV programmes has become not only reality, but is becoming mainstream. Now to get the company to buy me that iPhone 3GS!