Engaging Local Communities Through Digital Technology During and Post Pandemic

By Douglas Ralston, True Omni

There are new ways to use technology to help protect local interests while bringing better experiences to visitors. We all realize the local community is the lifeblood of culture and business and the connection of these factors is the true essence of the continued success of any tourism organization. As we take lessons from the Pandemic, with travel having more than its share, we understood that good things can come from unexpected bad situations. 

The fact is that many destinations were and are facing many issues related to over-tourism, sustainability issues, and local concerns about visitor behavior.  It was at the time becoming easy to forget that the places we visited are where people live, their children play, and are many times filled with cultural significance and sacred sites.

So, what could technology do to help during this time that would help reshape the process of traveler engagement while still providing an opportunity for travel organizations to stay connected to community priorities?

Below is an overview of what is possible when you combine technology with a dedicated open-minded state-wide CVB. Although many of our destinations share common problems and opportunities, Hawaii was one of our most unique. In that, it has all the opportunities and challenges of a driving tourism economy and a rich culture that needs to be protected and considered.

There are many great thought leaders in the tourism industry providing information on how to plan and drive sustainability and culture reinforcement and we listened to them all.  Trying our best to connect new ways to support economic changes and opportunities by opening up new channels of revenue. As well as ensuring we took into account the changing traveler behavior and their desire to be more dependent, self-serving and secure. Let me help lay out a few of the solutions that helped evolve traveler tools and convenience.

  • Consider the prearrival, providing education on local customs best places to consider by personal interests by connecting digital tools to help travelers plan. 

This has never been more important as we all look to stay safe and utilize social distancing. The key is to find ways to let visitors plan their itineraries around a more diverse set of options. Having 10,000 people go to the same spot every day is not sustainable. Pre-set preference-based itineraries and tools for reservations or occupancy limits should be considered.

  • Consider the Community, upon arrival new ways to educate and notify visitors of conduct and new ways to use transportation that can enhance exploration.

Providing easy reservations for new or previously unknown transportation options was the first step. Then connecting more relevant interactive maps and advanced trail solutions that allow visitors to engage deeper with their travel options. As well if you have specific types of tourism like Spirits, Historic, etc. using digital tools to engage these attractions will help expand perceptions and drive more revenue, especially with options for rewards and timely notifications to mobile products.

  • Scheduling and managing to help visitors get the most of their experience while ensuring a deeper control of natural resources and community.

If you have popular local attractions this is becoming more and more of an option.   The ability to require reservations and track better the amount of people that are coming to a particular area or site is now an option. Connect with local state and city governments to extend out these tools through your mobile solutions.

  • Revenue generation while driving more value for the local community. The key goal for most organizations is to look outside of just the bed tax to how to become more self-sufficient.

Every organization must evolve its approach, products, and way of doing business as this becomes the new prerequisite of surviving post covid. Connecting the dots between offering tools for reservation, purchase options, and booking is more important than ever.  Ensuring a connected advertising strategy that can connect each screen in any location will start you on the path to driving awareness for partners and opening up new ad revenue options.  

As your organization rethinks and redefines visitor services, revenue opportunities, and engagement. We have some known facts to help us shape our direction.

From what we know, 69% of locals are concerned with over-tourism. 37% view visitors as inconsiderate and unknowing about customs and laws in their city or location. 62% of visitors want to avoid large crowds or congested areas. 33% of travel organizations are actively looking to find better ways to manage large number of tourists. As we all look to solve different problems from local community issues to sustainability and visitor experiences. Some new technology options and solutions can help.

Pre-Arrival Technology:

Mobile technology, having a responsive website is a great way to engage but won’t meet the needs or travelers planning or while in-destination. There are some great tools to help get visitors ready to arrive.  Features such as Geo notifications, vacation countdowns, pre-arrival tickets, and alerts to notify of policies, etc. will help get visitors in the right mindset.  Mobile applications and progressive web apps are the best options to ensure the right tools for a connected visitor experience and ways to explore like a local.

Trails and Gamification:

Spirt-based tourism, historic and outdoor has continued to prove itself as a way to bring in and capture visitors’ attention. Consider the use of interactive trails to help the visitor navigate, find new favorite spots and provide check-in points to engage. Use digital experiences to provide badges, passports, or ways of remembering the experience. Consider rewards systems and use these tools to educate and bring people to lesser-known areas or businesses. This is also a great way to drive revenue through ticketing and connecting clear points of convenience.

Scheduling solutions. The facts are clear that destinations are going to have to look toward digital tools and scheduling to ensure a safer, more protected solution for both visitors and locals. Traffic, congestion, frustration, and transportation issues can be resolved by a scheduling system. Although it will require shaping visitor behavior in the long run it will provide a better experience and ensure more options for visitors to consider. One recommendation is to consider pooling resources with city and destination officials to find the right scheduling systems for your organization. The goal is to try to consolidate this into one app preferably the leisure travel app to ensure successful adoption and control.  A nice side effect can also be the ability to generate new points of revenue with reservations, booking, and ticketing options.  Feel free to reach out to us to learn more about systems to consider.

Kiosks

Kiosks are proven ways to drive convenience and self-service engagement for locals and visitors.   Most destinations are facing the fact that the visitor center is outdated, and new ways of sharing and safety need to be considered. Kiosks are a great way to help and provide better forms or data and 24x7 365 access.

Hawaii as an example will have a Kiosk on each island with focused content and access to services, trails, and unique ways to explore. While promoting its application to extend information from centers to easy-to-find directions, itineraries, and trails. Combining geo-based content notifications and events to help visitors navigate better.

There is a word for connecting multi-device tools and content based on location and user preference.  It’s called the omnichannel and every organization needs to develop their strategy outside of their website to engage the visitors in the destination.  

Driving convenience and experience with an any-device strategy is the way of the future. Consider reading up on omnichannel articles, there are some recommendations below. Keep in mind that no matter the solution you implement if done properly it should leverage your existing CRM and technology partnerships.  When educating and selling internally consider mapping out your technology strategy by tying it together with the goals of the community.    Sustainability, improving the visitor experience, connecting local businesses, and looking at new revenue channels for the future are great considerations.  Hawaii was hard hit with pandemic lockdown but has invested in next-generation solutions that focus on its key initiatives. Such as driving better sustainability and deeper cultural knowledge while considering the devices and digital solutions travelers want to use. One last key feature when thinking about omnichannel ensure you have a system that connects and consolidates.  Having 3 different vendors and multiple points of possible data connection issues is always worth considering. Connected analytics, data points, and ways to report ROI will ensure you have a successful strategy and digital future.

If you want to learn more about solutions that can help suitability initiatives, new ways to reduce paper, and ensuring visitors can connect how and when they want to feel free to reach out. We are happy to share what we have learned and love working with customers eager to rethink and revive the visitor experience.

Here are some great references:

https://blog.hubspot.com/service/omni-channel-experience

https://www.amazon.com/Future-Omni-Channel-Retail-Predictions-Amazon/dp/1945847034

https://www.amazon.com/Omnichannel-Retail-winning-stores-digital/dp/0749484462

We believe tourism can and should create positive ripple effects for local communities. But in order for this to happen, tourism development must be rooted in community priorities and needs. And DMO’s must be the leaders in technology and solutions to achieve great results.

About Author:

Throughout his 20 years of tenure with the technical and digital industry, Doug continuously reinforces a seamless solution for marketing and industrial development. He focused his career on creating impactful products in order to redefine brand experience, which eventually steered technology businesses to Fortune 500 companies such as Symantec, Panasonic, Microsoft, Cisco, and Citrix. Doug's industry-wide background in a commerce solution, sales, social, and digital strategy also equipped him to work with some of the biggest brands in travel, hospitality, and retail commerce.