This is Part One of a five part series I am calling “Invasion of The Things: How to Prepare Your Tourist Location for the Coming Mobile Apocalypse.” In this and the four posts that follow, I will cover:

  1. How the things that make up your tourist location, like statues and historical buildings, can “talk” to modern mobile devices
  2. Four technologies you can use today, and their pros and cons
  3. One way overzealous marketers use technology to ruin your tourism brand
  4. Where a seismic shift in how you interact with mobile tourists is coming from, and how Google is investing heavily to make it happen
  5. Five things you need to do NOW to prepare for the invasion…of the Things

Let us begin with…

A story about…pants

There is a scene in the sci-fi flick “Minority Report” where the lead character, played by Tom Cruise, is running past a pants advertisement that verbally harasses him with an unwanted, and ignored, sales pitch. We might have chuckled at that scene, even though we know, with some trepidation, that a time is coming when “things,” like talking posters, will not only promote themselves but do it in a way that is personal, because that thing knows something about us. In the movie, that “something” was the man’s waist size.

As to whether or not this phenomenon will happen, the debate is over. It will. In fact, the technical underpinnings have been underway for some time now. The issue is how you as a tourist professional apply the enabling technologies to your “things,” which are not pants, but rather points of interest like statues, historical buildings, gravestones, museums, pyramids, Eiffel Towers, and so forth. With the proper application of this technology, your points of interest will be included in one of the fastest growing, and in my opinion, one of the most exciting developments in the digital world: the so-called Internet of Things. 

The Internet of Things

If you were alive and aware on December 31, 1999, then you’ve already had your first encounter with the Internet of Things (IoT). Do you remember how the world was going to end when the clock ticked over to the new Millennium? Yep. That’s right…the Y2K freak-out. All the elevators were going to stop. ATMs would shut down. Airplanes would crash. Life as we knew it would end, all because of these damn little microchips tucked away in things (“embedded” computing is the geek term for “tucked away”). These embedded computers were smart enough to say, run your digital watch, but it was unclear if they were smart enough to know that the ‘00 in the year 2000 was not the year 1900. Fortunately for us, the Y2K apocalypse was a false alarm.

IoT is how everyday objects, like watches, elevators and refrigerators gain “smarts.” Today, almost 17 years after Y2K, there are even more things with even more smarts, in some cases downright brilliant smarts, and in an Orwellian twist, these things now talk to each other. The Matrix was not just a another good sci-fi flick — it’s becoming real and ever more pervasive. That is (mostly) a good thing, and properly applied, the IoT presents a wonderful opportunity for tourism because it can bring to life your otherwise non-communicative points of interest and allow them to “talk” to modern mobile devices.

Properly Applied

Let’s face it. We live in a fishbowl. Unless you shroud your mobile device in a copper foil Faraday Cage (I have a friend who actually does that), then at a minimum, your real-time location (where you are at any given moment) is known by a host of third-party apps and services. Mostly we benefit from this. For example, I voluntarily allow apps like Google Maps and Waze to know my location in return for their help getting me where I want to go. It is a free and voluntary exchange.

Less free and voluntary is when Waze pushes an ad for fried chicken under my nose, as they recently did. They obviously don’t know me that well, because I don’t eat that stuff. But I am not offended. I can see the future, and it’s a happy place where organizations offering goods and services do know me well. In the future, there will be no need for us to ever see an ad for a product we don’t already want and are prepared to buy. For example, the pants ad in Minority Report would be less “pushy” if it knew not only my waist size, but also that I am A) in the market for a pair of pants and B) in a position to buy them.

The power of location awareness combined with personal knowledge are what make mobile devices superior to every computing platform that preceded them, including the laptop. Harnessing that power requires establishing a push/pull dynamic between you and your visitor. You will push just enough information under the visitor’s nose to create interest, and with the help of their personalized mobile device, they will pullmore information out if they are interested. That push/pull dynamic is at the heart of all effective advertising, and it is becoming turbocharged with technology. The vast majority of tourists carrying a mobile device expect that dynamic, and it is how they will increasingly use their device to explore your location.

To serve these visitors, it is absolutely essential your digital presence includes morethan just a mobile friendly website, but also a powerful geolocation spinal cord linking your points of interest to their mobile device. In other words, to help visitors explore your place, you must effectively link the permanently located things that make up your place (statues, historical buildings, Eiffel Towers, etc) with your visitor’s impermanently located (aka “mobile”) device.

Presently, there are several ways to do that, each of which is slightly more advanced (or evolved) than its predecessor. All techniques are still viable, but to “properly apply” one must understand the pros and cons and ensure ignorant, pushy marketing types don’t interfere with the natural order and create a monstrosity, which they often do. In this series of posts I will discuss four options, beginning with the least evolved, the most common, and the most abused ~ the lowly QR code.

More on that in my next post.