QR codes and Mobile Apps: What can they do for Destination Marketing?
By Alicia Whalen ~ A Couple of Chicks
Thursday, 21st April 2011
First I must define yet another acronym and piece of digital technology that has been sprung upon us as of late to 'help' us as marketers connect with our customers. 

Help it will – if properly adopted as a technology to achieve conversion – and not simply a cool thing to add to a travel guide just because we should.

By definition according to Wikipedia, a QR code or "Quick Response" Code is a specific matrix barcode (or two-dimensional code), readable by dedicated QR barcode readers and camera phones. Simple enough right?

A QR bar code looks like this image which is the acoupleofchicks.com QR Code. 

Users scan the code into a smartphone (QR code readers are either built in or are a free app download) and they are taken to a web based landing page or mobile app.

As a marketer, the worst thing you can do is to simply send a QR code link directly to a website – and even worse, a website that is not mobile friendly.

(ok so the QR code example above when scanned goes directly to the acoupleofchicks.com website…we did that on purpose to show you what NOT to do…and we had a contest page that was out of date but you get the point).

QR codes will certainly revolutionize what we can do as marketers to reach customers – but must be used at the point of consumption, or close to the end of the travel buying cycle.

Why? By asking a prospective customer to scan a code that you have placed in a print Ad, on a window storefront, or on a brochure – you are asking them to engage with your brand – and you had better have something unique to say or offer.

A customer now has so many choices about how to consume content and marketing messages that it's critical for travel marketers to give them something valuable, especially if you want to continue the dialogue (and don't we all!). Smart phones and other mobile devices have made it so that consumers expect instant results all of the time whether they are looking for a nearby restaurant or a particular product or service.

So how do travel destinations use this to their advantage?

The Destination Marketing organization has always been the "official" point of reference for travellers. DMO's and VCB's small and large are funded and organized very differently, but all are in place to achieve the following primary objectives:

A. Encourage visitation to their Destination
B. Ensure stakeholders receive the benefits of Tourism
C. To act as the official voice or guide to the destination for consumers

Marketing efforts such as digital display and pay per click advertising, social media marketing, traditional print and television etc. all ensure that the destination is visible to its target audiences when consumers are in the travel dreaming and planning stages.

Beyond the visitor centres and visitor guides that are usually associated with a destination VCB or DMO, how do these organizations provide value to stakeholders and consumers beyond drawing consumers to the destination?

Enter Mobile.

Destination marketers can now use innovative mobile marketing vehicles such as mobile Apps and QR codes to continue the engagement with consumers while they are in market and experiencing travel. As well, mobile plays an important role in the post travel time where consumers are likely to share their experiences via review sites and social media. If a destination can effectively engage a visitor while they are in market, and act as the guide throughout their experience and post experience – they are taking the role of the DMO to a new level.

Mobile devices such as the smart phone and tablets have given us the opportunity to do just that. The travel buying funnel starts with online research, word of mouth (via online review sites, social media and face to face accounts), and continues with conversations both online and offline. That buying funnel for a destination should also extend throughout the travel experience to ensure that stakeholders are being seen while visitors are in market, that consumers are feeling guided – and that they are willing to talk about their experiences – and to visit again.

How can destination marketers use mobile devices, Apps and QR codes to achieve this?

1. At the very least, a destination marketing organization needs to have a mobile version of the website:
Travellers are now relying on smartphones and tablets and do not typically browse websites from mobile devices.

2. Provide a Destination App that gives value to the consumer:
Users will only download an App that provides value. Offer mapping functionality or unique travel experiences with walking routes to your destination app. Give them a reason to use your App while they are visiting and encourage consumers to share experiences while they are in the destination.

3. Use QR codes to offer consumers value and to drive visitors to stakeholder products and services:
A QR code marketing campaign must be specifically designed to assist visitors when they are in market.  The QR code could send consumers to a page offering them special offers from restaurants and stores – with codes visibly displayed for scanning from their mobile devices in travel guides, websites and on storefronts – used to assist visitors while they are experiencing the destination will ensure consumers actually engage with the brand. This will also encourage consumption of stakeholder products and services. A campaign such as this will also allow the DMO to continue to act as the official "guide" to the destination while consumers are in market.

So what can a DMO do to ensure that I as an avid traveler am engaged throughout the buying cycle?

A destination can provide me with a useful mobile app (love this one from Tourism Australia) to download before I visit; one that may help me with directions and other tips to making my experience easy and more fun.  (I am guessing that the app cannot ensure that I will be on time for my flight – but you never know…)

A DMO might also want to promote on their website, and on their social media sites that they have a useful App available so that I can download it in advance and can plan how I will use in while I am travelling.

While I am in the destination, a DMO could invite me to scan a QR code (from a travel guide or on a storefront sign – or from Times Square for that matter!) using my blackberry – taking me to a page that shows me that I am steps away from half price lunch at a quaint sushi bar, and that there is a big sale at the shoe store located in the shopping district known only to locals!  Heaven…

I will then tweet that I love this place and upload a photo to Facebook of my new shoes!

Alicia Whalen is the co-founder of "A Couple of Chicks.Com" an Internet Marketing, Distribution & Revenue Measurement Company. After 8 years developing search engine strategies and measuring online return on investment for large branded hotels, resorts and destination portal websites in Niagara Falls Canada, Alicia partnered with Patricia Brusha to develop an integrated, non-intimidating approach to Internet Marketing and Web strategy. 

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