The Growing Value of Mobile Marketing for Tourism, Or How to Lure Hungry Travelers That Love to Shop

“Esta com fome? Como cerca de sushi? Google ‘melhor sushi em Miami Beach’ em seu telephone.” Imagine a Brazilian couple on vacation in South Beach. They spent some time at the beach, walked around town, bought some souvenirs, and now they are getting hungry. They’re sick of the expensive tourist traps and want to find a good place to eat at a good value. At home, when they want to discover a new restaurant they Google their search term, do a little research, and go out to try something new. They’ve brought their smart phone on vacation with them and it has proven to be an invaluable tool in a foreign city – pointing out good deals, giving restaurant reviews, showing maps, and sending photos.

So the question is, “How many local merchants are marketing directly to them with mobile ads?” Definitely not enough. And, if those merchants are located in prime destinations – Miami, New York, L.A. – for American and international travelers then the effectiveness of the ads could be fantastic, but if they aren’t using these tools the lost opportunity costs are also high. Mobile marketing has already caught on with Europeans, and based on my interactions with tourists, I notice that wealthy travelers from South America always bring their Blackberry or iPhone on trips and see it as an important status symbol.

There are around 5 billion cell phone users vs. only 1.8 billion internet users, both huge numbers, thus the potential lies with the mobile internet. Although there are only 51 million smart phone users, this is where resources should be focused because the phones offer the best user experience and the ads will be seen by the wealthiest mobile phone users. Take into consideration that smartphone sales will surpass worldwide PC sales by the end of 2011, according to RBC, and it looks like now is the time to start using mobile marketing ads to reach people wherever they may be.

What if someone told you what the internet would be like a year before it got big? Do you think you’d be more successful now? Well, the opportunities with the mobile web could be bigger! The current web gives us immediate gratification, but we have to have a computer and an internet connection. The new mobile web comes to us wirelessly, into our hands through smart phones and mobile devices that are geographically positioned to where we are now. What if you could sell what people want right now, where they are at this moment? Mobile ads provide this functionality, and at a low price.

Print media is still expensive, not measurable enough, and not profitable enough. Too many small local businesses never even took full advantage of using the internet to connect with customers, but if there was a steady stream of tourists it often didn’t matter. But now with more competition and less people traveling, it is wise to stop spending money on print ads and flyers that visitors never see or just throw away and pay pennies a click to reach them on the smart phones they won’t leave home without.

Small businesses in touristic areas can even reach people before they leave home. For example, a boutique hotel in Miami Beach could run ads on smart phones just for people in New York City that say “Coming to Miami this winter?” It could be released the coldest day of January and offer a free visitors’ guide to South Beach in exchange for their email. This costs $.05 a click and now the hotel has the freezing traveler’s email address to which they can send the free guide and a special offer to visit the hotel as soon as possible!

There are many ways to get creative with mobile phone advertising and offering coupons is one of the smartest ways to reach out to new customers and earn their loyalty. The applications for tourism focused coupons are tremendous, for example, many people from South America go to the U.S. to shop for electronics and luxury goods that are very expensive back home. A women’s boutique at a mall could send out coupons via their mobile ads and partner with a tour van operator to take people to the shop. For restaurants in competitive areas a mobile coupon for a couple of free beers could go along way and the competition will never even know how it is being done since the offer arrived personally, straight to the end user’s phone and not via flyers that litter the street.

Furthermore, since Social Networking tops U.S. mobile app downloads and 50% of all social media interaction occurs on cell phones, using mobile ads to promote a business’ Facebook page is smart too. Detailed information, tourist guides, coupons, and reviews can be found on their Facebook site and there is less need to establish an expensive website. Now the business is motivated to treat the tourist very well, maintain contact, stimulate positive reviews, make more friends, and stay in touch so the visitor comes back the following year.

In conclusion, local businesses in tourist driven areas can use mobile marketing at a low price to directly reach potential visitors and bypass the myriad travel sites that take commissions. They can easily provide value and earn the loyalty of their guests before they even meet, and then once the traveler is impressed the relationship can blossom via social media. The potential to get creative with this is great because this method is in its infancy and whoever gets in now is going to do very well. You can see a great example of using Facebook to stay in touch with past guests, and promote a small hotel and vacation rental in Santa Teresa Costa Rica by clicking the link.