For two years in a row, my coworker and I have attended the eTourism Summit – a conference that brings travel industry experts together for presentations and networking to discuss cutting-edge online marketing issues and strategies – specifically for destinations. It’s a great opportunity to learn from, and with our peers from around the world, learning from experts on all things Internet, including representatives from the likes of Facebook and LinkedIn.
This year, the conference began with a tour of Google headquarters – a rare chance (they don’t typically welcome groups) to see the work environment at the world’s largest search engine. We toured their pampered campus, and it was easy to see why their employees work 10-12-hour days. Sample of perks included in their salary: laundry service, beach volleyball courts, several fitness clubs (fully staffed with trainers), endless pools, a bowling alley, and regular visits from dignitaries like U.S. Presidents, Nobel prize winners and Lady Gaga, who was there a couple weeks before us. It is a world designed to encourage interaction, collaboration and creativity.
Our group was able to choose from any of the four gourmet, themed restaurants for lunch. We then were treated to an intimate presentation from Google’s travel team, complete with a panel of their experts for Q&A. Of course, they are privy to the ultimate Google Analytics; and took us through a few online travel research scenarios. There are tricks to influencing travelers, and as marketers, we must understand and capitalize on the search process, placing our destinations front and center at that “zero moment of truth”, when the traveler is on the cusp of making that booking decision.
As if we didn’t gain enough insight at the Google tour, we still had a couple days of information to absorb at the conference sessions. And this year, our very own VP of marketing, Carol Joannette, was chosen to be one of the esteemed presenters. As a relatively small Destination Marketing Organization (DMO) (there were many much larger in attendance, like Tourism Ireland, New Zealand and several U.S. States), it was quite an honor to be part of this mix of industry experts.
Carol was asked to present because we had recently launched our flagship destination’s brand new mobile web site: m.lakeplacid.com – and it was developed using HTML5. The panel discussion included the decision to launch a mobile site in general, implications of coding formats and mobile apps for destinations. By the end, Carol was signing autographs. (OK, she was distributing her business card- but that’s similar.)
What is a mobile site? Why develop a whole different interface for lakeplacid.com just for cell phone users?
First, mobile phones – or the kind specifically called SmartPhones (iPhone, Droid and the like) are becoming increasingly prevalent, and are dramatically changing the way that people access information.
Here are some stats: 35% of all cell phones currently in use are SmartPhones. 50.4% of new cell phones bought are SmartPhones. Of all U.S. Internet traffic, 4.5% is accessed by cell phone.
In the U.S., 8.4% of mobile cell phone browser activity is travel service (UP 42% from July 2010), and the number 1 browser activity is search at 44.6%, which underscores the need for search engine optimization in the mobile sector as well as desktop.
Why did we decide to invest in a mobile site? As an accredited DMO, everything we do is informed by research and statistics analysis. We carefully monitor analytics for all of our destination websites. And, we have seen a dramatic increase in mobile access to lakeplacid.com. A mobile phone, of course, has a smaller display area, so it is important to provide a page specifically designed for that small display, with simple navigation buttons to provide the most sought-out information with as few clicks as possible.
The new mobile site automatically loads on mobile devices that access lakeplacid.com. And as our site was designed in HTML5, the site loads consistently on any platform, whether it is an iPhone, Droid or Blackberry, etc. Alternatively, our coders (at local agency Adworkshop) would have to write code for every type of platform, and to update that code as new technology inevitably arrives in the marketplace. So the choice of HTML5 coding language represents a huge cost and time savings.
The mobile site looks a lot different than the browser interface for the desktop-accessed lakeplacid.com. There are quick links to Do, Events, Dining, Shopping, Contact, and Stay, with icons to easily call or email us with one click. And, users have easy access to all photo listings in our database.
Here’s an example: our staff has been diligently updating the hiking trails in our database, complete with descriptions and photos. When the mobile user clicks on Do, then selects Hiking, they are presented with a list of hikes and details, and can select “map this” to get directions from where they are standing directly to the trailhead.
We will continue to update the mobile sub-navigation topics based on the information for which our visitors are searching, and enhancing our database to ensure that we provide the most comprehensive content.
How’s the site traffic so far? The m.lakeplacid.com mobile site was launched on September 8, 2011. To date, mobile access currently represents about 9 percent of our overall site visits. And where are users accessing the mobile site from, geographically? The largest concentrations are in New York City, Boston, Washington D.C. Toronto, Philadelphia, Ottawa and Montreal. That’s good news – we’re providing a convenient access to our destination resources to mobile web surfers in important rubber-tire feeder markets!
The Internet is an ideal marketing mechanism – especially for the travel industry. It is imperative that we remain engaged in learning and implementing strategies to leverage the ever-changing online marketing landscape. I know that my communications priorities have completely changed over the past few years from traditional media engagement to online content development, and from what we’ve learned by “going mobile”, that’s the only strategy that will allow our destinations to compete.
Still, it might not hurt to get our own fleet of Lake Placid, Adirondacks USA bikes and fuel up on mandatory snacks.
Kimberly Rielly is the director of communications for the Lake Placid CVB/Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism.