I recently wrote a blog about TripAdvisor and how to make the most of it on your FIT (Free Independent Traveler) trip.
What can you learn as a developer or someone who wants to own their own app to win loyalty and business in the hospitality and tourist industry?
The first thing is content. Most applications are city focused. That’s understandable, but based on my experience in the Southern States was that there were loads of tourists looking for cool things to do and see, but they were so hard to find. If I hadn’t found the Blues Trail Guide at the Natchez Trace Information Centre, I would not have visited Crystal Springs because according to TripAdvisor there was nothing there but a single restaurant. In fact I had the most wonderful day there, meeting the Mayor at City Hall and spending a couple of hours with Theresa, the Granddaughter of legendary blues giant of Crossroads fame Robert Johnson at his museum.
Now you may not have heard of Robert Johnson, or watched the movie Crossroads, inspired by his legendary story, but if you are a blues fan, then this is a must do pilgrimage and to actually meet and talk with his granddaughter is something you won’t likely do at music museums or historic places of interest anywhere in the world. My point is that outside of the cities is where the real people live and the world is full of exciting and interesting places outside of Disney, Alcatraz or the Empire State Building.
While I make that criticism, I do have to say that TripAdvisor was by far the best for the apps I used on my trip. I was able to find the properties I wanted to stay in, I was able to filter things to do, types of accommodation and more, I guess the key thing was lack of information outside of cities.
As a future step, I’d like it to have the ability to learn about me, profile me based on my interests and make suggestions to me. Given the wealth of information they do have, this would not be too difficult.
When it comes to accomodation, maybe they could also help me with search functionality that would allow me to eliminate properties with keywords, for example ‘show me all properties in Xville excluding keywords ‘bed bugs’ and ‘bad internet’. I understand the problem for properties who may be unfairly targeted by competitors trying to put people off their properties, but that is a security issue and there are always opportunities for redress. The fact is, wherever I saw comments about bedbugs etc, I avoided those properties like the plague. So all it did was make it take longer for me to find those comments, but I still didn’t stay at those properties. What frustrated me the most was that I spent up to 2 hours some nights, instead of relaxing, trying to work out where we would go next and where we would stay, which took a bit of the gloss off an awesome trip.
I’d like an app, and I know people are building them, which allow you to list your interests and then it will generate a tour or recommendations to meet your interests. Issue for me is most of them are based around specific advertisers who are often self rated, or very generic interests. That doesn’t work for me, I want apps that have all places, business and non business.
Probably the biggest one for me is I want live events. This was the hardest thing of all and TripAdvisor didn’t support this. If you ask a tourist what some of the best things they did were, it was about real life events, fairs, the bath-tub river race, Civil War reenactments (there were plenty but other than driving past one by accident we wouldn’t have had a clue where to find them), concerts, shows, the rodeo in Hattiesburg MS which we only found out about because we were in a hotel restaurant having breakfast and met a family who were competing in it.
Tourism is hurting around the world. Lots of people are traveling their own countries rather than going overseas. Lots of treasures are being missed in towns that have a lot to offer and many of those businesses need our tourism dollars more than the big cities.
A footnote to state and regional tourism organisations, particularly USA, Australia and New Zealand. It is frustrating and short sighted in my humble opinion to stop your tourism efforts at the border. I loved the Tennessee tourism book, but it was too hard to use and it stopped at the border. I also understand that your tax dollars stop at the border, but tourists don’t. Same to Louisiana who obviously had their book made by the same publisher. If you are using the same company, then that company could perhaps look at making quality location based applications that make it easy and attractive for people to enjoy holidays and spend their money.
Perhaps the key is to ask the tourists what they want rather than just continue to focus on traditional print business as usual.
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.
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.
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?
If you have been following my blogs, you’ll be aware that I am very passionate about the mobile and Location Based Services technologies. I am always checking out new concepts and many of them are variations on the same theme. This doesn’t make them less interesting, although one of the issues I want to work out is which ones offer a unique perspective that will allow them to be The Next Big Thing. That doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be the next Facebook or Twitter (which many people said was just a waste of time, in fact many are still saying it is going nowhere and won’t make money. You won’t hear that from me).
One that I recently found out about is GPS Film. GPS Film is an open source tool that allows film makers to produce a movie that people watch on their mobile smartphone. The film segments or chapters are triggered by the mobile being in certain locations. The example on the video below is a film called Nine Lives which was filmed in Singapore. The comedy which you watch on your iPhone or other Smartphone begins with a climax and then in order to see the rest of the film, you need to go to the locations where it the film was shot in order to see each clip. The GPS on the phone is the trigger to allow you to see the next scene.
This has amazing potential as a tourism tool. Imagine doing a road trip of New Zealand following a movie like Goodbye Pork Pie, or checking out some of the great spots in NY State from the movie Road Trip, where you have to be in those places to view each segment.
Now come a little back to earth and think about what you can do, and what Singapore has done with ‘Nine Lives‘. What a great entertaining way to explore a city. This looks to me to be a dream for tourism organisations. Given that it doesn’t have to offer a full cinematic experience, a cool film can be made with a modest budget, perhaps sponsored by businesses such as tourist attractions, accommodation providers, food and beverage chains, which would provide locations for segments of a movie. Did I mention it is Open Source?
This is definitely food for thought and a great opportunity around major events such as the Rugby World Cup next year. Check out this short video to see what I mean.
During the day I work for GeoSmart Maps Ltd, a subsidiary of the NZ Automobile Association.
We have just launched the Location Innovation Awards. I’m hoping that if you are in New Zealand you will join in the fun and get your thinking juices flowing.
The background is that we know that LBS (Location Based Services) will become commonly used technology in 4-5 years and people will participate as if they have been doing it all their lives. GeoSmart has the tools to facilitate this type of technology now, so we have launched a competition to get people to develop concepts today.
There are four categories which are explained on the website (which went live today) and they have the potential to have a significant impact on people’s lives.
Imagine you are a tourist hopping off the plane at Queenstown Airport and as you head to the luggage conveyor area you see a billboard with a promotion offering you amazing deals on various local attractions. If you text ‘Queenstown Live’ to a short code, you will have $20 deducted from your account and will be offered a range of services at huge discounts. When you get to the main town pier in Queenstown you get a text message saying that if you get down to the ticket office within the next 10 minutes you can enjoy the 4P.M. jet boat experience for only $25, a saving of $70. Without the promotion, the jet boat might go out half empty. This way they sell more seats and make a profit on the trip and the tourist gets a great deal.
You are a member of a jogging club on Facebook. You are in Nelson on business and decide to stay over for the weekend. You are interested in finding a jogging buddy to go for a run with. Through an application on your phone or a map application on Facebook, you are able to locate someone to go for a run with who is also in the area.
The story we have sent to the media today is as follows:
Bringing the future forward with the Location Innovation Awards
In the near future, location based applications will be commonplace, with electronic coupons being sent to your mobile because you are near a service you have opted-in for such as a Happy Hour deal for the bar you are walking past, or a promotion from your favourite fashion retailer (with whom you have signed up and given your colour, style and size preferences) which knows that you are in the mall.
GeoSmart Maps Ltd wants to bring that future forward to 2009 and has established a competition to encourage people to come up with concepts in 4 categories, being Social Networking, Proximity Based Marketing, LBS Games and widgets for the AA MAPS website. There are prizes for each category and the overall winner will also win a trip to San Jose in the USA to attend the Where 2.0 Conference in May 2009.
The competition isn’t pitched just at developers, a proof of concept demonstration would be great, but a great concept document has just as much chance of winning great prizes from a list of sponsors including Geekzone, Tomizone, Sony Ericsson, TomTom, Vodafone new Zealand and the NZ Automobile Association.
The judging criteria are documented in the entry packs and on the official website at http://www.locationinnovation.co.nz. The judges themselves are well qualified and represent GeoSmart, Massey University, Geekzone and the Wireless and Broadband Forum.
The competition runs from 16 October 2008 and entries are to be in by 16 February 2009. The Awards will be presented at the annual Wireless and Broadband Forum Convergence 2009 event at the Alinghi Base in Auckland’s Viaduct Basin.
The New Zealand Government has once again raised the prospect of a Carbon Tax on Petrol, rated as 7 cents in the litre. The concept I gues is based on a user pays scenario, so the more you drive, the more carbon you burn. Given that in most parts of New Zealand our public transport systems are pretty substandard, it looks like most of us will pay the price.
They have talked for a long time about measuring exhaust emissions and setting levels below which you can’t pass your Warrant of Fitness tests, but that still hasn’t come in. Of course that doesn’t generate significant revenue and the NZ Government has just announced a significant budget deficit, not that these 2 things are in any way related. I’ve also noticed that many of the ‘greenies’ drive diesel cars that blow black smoke and are often covered with soot, as are many of the buses I follow on the motorways. I suspect that the black soot on the bus I saw recently covering an advertisement on the back of a bus which said “we are drivers too” is a carbon waste product.
Currently, according to Caltex NZ, 41.6% of the price we pay for petrol in NZ is tax, so why not just round it up to an even 50%? The story was good though and I was impressed with Caltex’s excellent suggestions on how to use less fuel, some of them are very good. I suspect though that most people will continue their normal lifestyle. It’s like the old story of putting a frog in a pot of warm water and bringing it to boil slowly. We still love our big cars and we want to enjoy the great outdoors which is why many of us love in New Zealand.
The thing that amazes me is that we are still so slow with introducing alternative fuel engines. Toyota and Honda have done very well with Hybrid engines and they can’t seem to get enough to meet demand. Maybe the government should do something to encourage these vehicles and lower the import taxes on them. It’s yet another example of why the things that are good for you cost so much more. Give businesses in the cities an incetive to buy Smart Cars, but of course we have a problem with renewable energy as well, especially after a long dry summer. But wait, what about solar power? This is another tangent, but I read a couple of years ago about people in the USA getting major rebates for installing solar energy in their homes, plus the ability to sell their surplus power into the grid. We have certainly had more than enough sun this year, well actually I wouldn’t mind if it lasted all year round, but the point is we aren’t harnessing it and we aren’t offering people an incentive to help with the cost of making it happen.
So, we continue to encourage the use of fossil fuels (yes I know we are starting to include small amounts of biofuel into the mix, but all that will do at this stage is allow the oil to last a little longer. We know oil is a finite resource and once we have run out and the Middle East has caved in, what then? My prediction based on current consumption is that fuel will become incredibally scarce, travel and tourism will become incredibly expensive and this could have a disastrous effect on economies like ours.
So lets see what happens. Petrol prices go up because of oil scarcity, whether through resource depletion or through wars and terrorism. Oil prices also go up because of carbon taxes as oil companies have to buy carbon credits to meet their obligations. Taxes go up because they are based on a percentage of the price, whether through excise, GST, carbon, road user and others. The cost of living goes up because this impacts on everything we do, all goods and services involve transport. Domestic tourism and entertainment will suffer as people decide it costs to much to go anywhere. We all become a nation of obese couch potatoes because it’s cheaper to sit at home to watch sport or cable TV instead of going out and getting some exercise.
One day it will be too prohibitive to go anywhere except for special occassions and we will we end up living virtual lives, never leaving our homes at all.
Actually I wouldn’t mind the carbon tax if it was used on R & D for alteratives, for incentives for people to develop and commercialise alternative fuels and engines to run on them. The whole concept of carbon taxes seems to be punitive instead of constructive. What happened to Kiwi innovation? We’re still patting ourselves on the backs for inventing number 8 fencing wire, Hamilton jets and bungee jumping. Let’s pay people for coming up with new renewable energy resources instead of punishing people for using the only resources they have available to them, there’s a novel idea? There might even be international carbon credits in it.