Tourism, Moose, iPads, and Social Media: How Can They Get Along (and Make Money)?

Moose
iPads and moose have a lot in common. In their native habitats––large metropolitan areas or the backwoods of northern states, respectively––both are highly sought after and sometimes hard to find. Moose are hunted as prized big game, and so are the elusive white AT&T iPads, depending on the season. Moose are large, graceful creatures who use their body mass, speed, incredible strength, and height to fulfill certain roles (soccer player, landscaper, car washer, nurse, fence technician), and the iPad uses its powerful A5 processor to display videos of moose accomplishing these herculean feats. Alaska bull moose weigh upwards of 601 kilograms (depending on the rack), and the Wi-Fi iPad weighs in at 601 grams (depending on the case). The iPad’s need for signal strength and electricity make it found most often in populated places and in comforting and protective confines of small bags, purses and murses. Moose’s need for large territory and its enormous daily calorie requirements make it difficult to survive in suburban areas where fresh terrestrial vegetation and aquatic plants are scarce.

Question: What do moose, iPads, social media, and Maine have in common? Answer: Tourism!
The presence of iPads means data, and data means the possibility of social media, but moose habitats––primarily rural areas of North America––currently have few iPads and minimal social media activity by tourism-centered businesses. Moose-inhabited rural areas tend to rely on tourism as a major source of income, therefore moose, iPads, social media, and Maine should all be connected. Moose and iPads are elusive in and around rural areas of North America––Maine’s Mount Desert Island, for example––many of which rely on tourism dollars to support the local human residents. Sure, moose and iPads may occasionally be seen near Acadia National Park, but both are not common sightings during a summer trip to the area.

Social Media & Tourism
Tourism has always been a social experience. Rarely do you wake up one morning and exclaim, “I want to travel to latitude 51.392351, longitude -68.667297!” and arrive to find that it is a remote crater lake in Northern Canada. The natural link between tourism and social media is huge. People view images from their friends’ proverbial “summer vacations” via Facebook, Twitter, and other photo-sharing sites (most often with geolocation data), which just might spark their interest in traveling to the same locations to share similar experiences. Without the social connection, their friends may never have wanted to travel to a new locale or experience a different area in their own backyard. The bottom line is that travel is social or, at the very least, the preparation and planning for it can be enhanced by social media.

In yesteryear, say before 2000, planning long-distance travel involved trips to the bookstore or library to check out dated travel books. Once you selected a destination, you would make a trip to a travel agent or make a series of calls to various airlines, hotels, and tourist destinations to make a bevy of inquiries and reservations. Beginning in 1997, as Internet access became more prevalent, many of the big airlines and hotel chains began to move their rates, availability, and reservation systems to the web. Fast-forward to 2007. The smartphone revolution was just beginning to crest, with BlackBerry still standing strong, iPhone just bursting onto the scene, and Nokia, Palm, and the rest of the pack picking up the pieces. As the adoption of web-capable mobile devices soared, travel sites took notice and designed apps that allow users to book entire trips to Tahiti while sitting the mass transit hell on NJ Transit. As social media becomes more integrated into websites of all types, users are able to see what their friends have liked, commented on, shared, and tweeted. The social backbone of many sites ties in greatly with travel and tourism, with more tourist destinations adding social media functions to their web presence every month.

So where do iPads and moose fit into tourism?
Plain and simple, they don’t––at least not yet. The scarcity of mobile technology (let alone voice and data service) in remote tourist destinations may never increase, but some interesting observations can expose areas of opportunity for marketing professionals and advertisers both on and offline. The table below compares two similar burger/bar establishments in two coastal towns: the tourist destination of Bar Harbor, Maine, and Stamford, Connecticut, a larger city with many residents who commute to NYC.

Geddy’s Pub Casey’s Tavern
City Bar Harbor, ME Stamford, CT
Estimated Regional Tourists per Year 2,000,000 (proximity to Acadia National Park) No data available, but significantly less by concentration
Population 4,820 117,083
Yelp.com Reviews 34 9
Foursquare Check-ins 239 423
Foursquare Tips 8 5
TripAdvisor Reviews 136 No presence
Facebook No presence No presence

The frequency and quality of the reviews for the Bar Harbor restaurant and the social media activity surrounding it may surprise you, but consider the incentives and circumstances. Sites like TripAdvisor allow users to see if any of their Facebook friends have traveled to a given destination and add a second level of data to a prospective visitor’s deluge of information on any locale. For better or worse, people are reviewing places where they travel, and because of human nature, the bad reviews tend to be the only comments worth the effort to post. Visitors to Bar Harbor are frequently reminded to leave a review on TripAdvisor or similar sites, as local proprietors have begun to learn the value of a good  review online.

The adoption of social media and check-in based deals (like Foursquare) among Mount Desert Island–area businesses is very low. The same is true of many rural tourist destinations across the country. One might guess that this is due to a lack of understanding or personal adoption of this technology among proprietors. Sound the alarm: (huge) opportunity ahead.

What does this mean?
Climb aboard rural, tourism-driven business or get left behind. Smartphones/tablets, social media, and better voice and data coverage combined with a better strategic presence for rural, tourism-based businesses can and will be instrumental in their future. As more visitors adopt the combination of hardware, software, and network coverage that allows them to interact in the social web, the gap between businesses that have invested the effort in developing an online social presence and businesses that have not will increase. The Bar Harbor/Stamford example was only to illustrate the power of concentrated visitors and how they can propel a given business to the top of various social media and travel review sites. As more and more people use these sites and as more social and review sites enter the marketplace, businesses with a strategic marketing plan that includes a social, mobile, and online presence will increase their chances of long-term success.

Author: John Carew
Photo Credit:  Natalie Lucier

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