Tourism Apps in 2013 – Wish You Weren’t Here?


Copper Horse’s Matt Williams discusses a few issues around tourism applications for mobile:


Tourism mobile applications are growing ever popular by the year, but it appears to be the case that “Wish You Were Here” is turning into “Wish You Weren’t Here”, when it comes to the apps themselves.


Tourism Apps

Tourism apps encompass a wide range of functions. Some offer navigation capabilities to help the user find their way around. In the not too distant future, reading paper maps will be limited to only a small number of certain situations as smartphones continue to sell in their millions. Lengthy holidays in remote environments where there are few or no charging points appear to be the only likely places that they will be used in future. Simplicity and convenience is what is offered with such apps, e.g. Google Maps. Just simply plug in where you want to go and a route is drawn out for you, with your location on show whilst undertaking the journey, to make sure you don’t stray from the plotted path.


Other popular tourism-themed applications include information apps. Search for a landmark in a big city and there you have it, information on the searched location. Additionally, apps also offer review services where you share your opinion on a restaurant or a show for others to peruse afterwards; you can even rate the experience.


Yes, tourism apps have grown significantly in recent years and now offer a wide range of services for people new to a location, right in the palm of their hand. But it’s not all smooth sailing; there are still many instances where such apps are repeatedly failing. And here are a few examples.


1 – Infrequent Updates

One of the most significant hang-ups with tourism apps is that they aren’t updated frequently enough. Many tourism applications rely on data that will at some point need to be changed. This could be anything from the seasonal cost of a boat ride to changes in the road network in the area covered by the application.

The problem with a number of apps that deal with such information is that much of their data remains out of date, simply because they don’t update their details frequently enough. Although the need for an information update varies depending on the specific application, regular updates on a monthly basis would keep the users at ease. This would especially be the case if the app’s developers made it clear when the updates are made, thereby reassuring users that the app’s content is continually kept fresh. The issue of infrequent updates can cause an app to lose popularity rapidly. Along with the app’s usability, it is often the point raised most often in reviews posted on app stores like Apple App Store and Google Play. The lack of consistency and freshness of local government Open Data APIs is also a factor here that could really be improved upon.


2 – Lack of Travel Methods

Another problem with some tourism apps, those that are concerned with navigating users around a particular area, is that they aren’t consistent in which method of travel they are providing directions for or that they simply don’t provide navigation capabilities for enough modes of transport.

Walking, driving and public transport are the main methods of travel and it is often the case that only one of those modes is catered for on an application. This limits the available audience and constricts those who do use it to just one variety, although some would argue that by having one mode of travel available the app is maintaining consistency. To add other ways of getting around would be an excellent feature to have for an app and would make it stand out from a rather saturated field of tourism apps that are ‘one dimensional’ in that respect.


3 – Over Reliance on Network Connection

The need for mobile applications to connect to the Internet whilst in use is all too common in the tourism category. Many aspects of such apps, require the user to make a connection, often caused by the developer’s dependency on things like Google Maps to provide mapping. Customers are most likely to make use of a tourism app outside, whether they’re wandering the streets of a city or taking a mountainous trail off the beaten track. Consequently, this means that connectivity can be limited, with users having to rely on 3G or 4G or connecting to open WiFi networks. This is a particular weak point in the whole process. Internet connectivity (and GPS use) dramatically increases the drain on a phone’s battery power, meaning that there is a significant time limitation on the app’s use before there is the need for recharging (as if our phone battery lives aren’t bad enough!).


Making more aspects of the application available offline to users is the way forward it seems and having as much of the app available upon initial download is a desirable feature for users too. Another point to consider, with regards to the use of 3G and 4G, is that many users of tourism applications will be foreign tourists themselves. Charges for data roaming abroad can be astronomical and you don’t want a major segment of your target market to be at risk from accumulating high costs from the use of your app. Additionally, 3G and 4G coverage is not consistent and is sparse in more rural areas, meaning tourism apps designed for use in the countryside will find it almost impossible to make use of this.


4 – Limitation to the Big Cities

Finally, an issue with many tourism apps out there currently is that limit themselves considerably by addressing only the major cities. London, Paris, New York – whilst these locations may have a large number of attractions to visit and navigate between, there are numerous smaller towns and points of interest to look at outside of the more obvious choices. As a result of the large extent of focus on major cities, users of mobile devices are missing out on those ‘hidden gems’ that can also offer a great experience. It is these smaller areas, the ‘long tail’ of things, that are missing out on the services that mobile applications offer and are still a relatively untapped market.



Overall, it is clear that whilst tourism apps continue to grow in popularity with mobile device users, there are still some notable flaws in what apps are failing to do, in infrequent content updates and limiting their audience by generally providing their services exclusively for one mode of transport and in the big cities. Limitations exist around ‘Open Datasets’ across the world too. Developers need to look at the actual market they’re addressing and real world usability and usage scenarios to make tourism applications more successful. If tourism applications looked a little further afield and at more diverse user interests, developers may well find untapped areas that could be lucrative. If they plugged the holes identified in this blog, they’d be better set for retaining their users and keeping them happy.