Lonely Planet on Future of Location Based Services

IN-DEPTH: The travel industry continues to make efforts to gain a holistic view of how consumers are engaging with their locations as well as to shape up various mechanisms to reciprocate and maximise the value of those engagements.

Referring to location as relevance on a mobile device, Lucinda Newcomb, head of Mobile Product Management, Lonely Planet says everything in the user experience should default to location – search results, maps, etc.

By Ritesh Gupta

The travel industry is looking at capitalising on location aware features in their mobile offering in several ways.

A company of Lonely Planet’s stature says its primary mobile value proposition is about helping travellers get to the heart of a place – without incurring roaming charges.

The Lonely Planet city guide apps use the GPS location to show them its recommended restaurants, sights, hotels, etc. These apps are not crowd sourced, they are differentiated because they are a curated perspective on the best places to visit and things to do, and Lonely Planet uses GPS to help travellers discover those places closest to them. The company says since it has thousands of places of interest, it would be an overload of pop ups to notify travellers every time they are near one. The company, which doesn’t work on local ads, has plans to incorporate user generated content.

The company also launched Wenzani, a free app for the iPhone and iPod touch, late last year. It takes into account the users’ location, time of day, current weather situation, and social network to recommend the things to do and see around them. Wenzani is different from the Lonely Planet city guide apps in that it combines expert recommendations from publishers such as Lonely Planet, Frommers, BBC Travel, Time Out, SF Gate, etc. with the users’ social network.

 

Future of Location Based Services

Lucinda Newcomb, head of Mobile Product Management, Lonely Planet, who this week presented at EyeforTravel’s Social Media and Mobile Strategies for Travel 2012 conference in San Francisco, spoke about the future of location based services:

- Location = relevance on a mobile device

Ø Everything in the user experience should default to location – search results, maps, etc.

Ø Instead of assuming they want to go back to the last place they left the app, the current context should be higher priority

- Think of location as the new “home”

Ø Opening the app should be like opening the travel guide, and having it magically flip to page about your current destination

- Given the supremacy of “what’s near me,” imagine the possibilities for local search

Ø Sponsor your particular location – anytime the traveler is nearby, increase the visibility

Ø If you’re a travel service provider, only your most loyal customers will download your proprietary app – far better to be featured in an app that is more broadly applicable with a broader audience

 

Newcomb spoke to EyeforTravel’s Ritesh Gupta about the same in detail. Excerpts:

To what extent mobileusers understand the value they receive from location based services (LBS) and by sharing location information? The connection between sharing location information and real value to the end user needs to be clear. How do you assess the situation?

Lucinda Newcomb:

Travellers use Lonely Planet apps when they are travelling in a new place, are “on-the-go” and unfamiliar with the destination. They are eager to learn the things that they can visit or do around them. Our apps focus on providing this guidance and are designed to shortcut travellers to the information that is most important to solve their current need. That information is never more than a few taps away, which makes for a better user experience. By utilising the GPS positioning through our offline maps, they can ascertain where they are on the map in relation to the points of interest that Lonely Planet recommends—the value of which is immediate and clear.

 

Google says when users search on mobile they like to take an action immediately. And the action in the local context is often in the form of calling the business or navigating or walking to the business. So ads with click-to-call and directions/navigation information perform very well. What’s your take on this?

Lucinda Newcomb:

We have also found this to be true- the information we provide is geared toward being able to call or quickly use our offline maps to navigate to the hotel/restaurant/museum/site/other point of interest, which is what travellers want to be able to do to have a smoother experience.

 

Travel companies, for instance hotels, are looking at deliveringhyper-local online experience. The idea is let consumer discover and enjoy their online experience by blending mobile, social media and interactive map technologies. How do you see such initiatives shaping up?
This is what we do in our apps and we’ve found it to be very successful – we have 9m downloads of our city guide apps alone, which are location-aware and offline. We know that users value location-aware information. We also plan to integrate social in order to provide broader coverage and more sources of trustworthy information.

 

Businesses want consumers to check-in and tell friends about their brand, and travel marketers continue to discover new ways to reward customers for “checking-in”. There's lot of excitement in the air when it comes to location plus social, and geo-location check-in services. How do you assess the popularity of such offerings?
We are less focused on the check-in element and more focused on expert content—from a traveller perspective check-ins don’t necessarily give you enough information to make an informed decision about whether or not to try a business. Check-ins can be very helpful but are not sufficient alone. We look at them as just one component to a social strategy.

 

What sort of benchmarks can one set for assessing the success of LBS initiatives at this stage?
For us, our main metric is how many people download and use our travel guides and the ratings we receive from them. With 10m downloads of all our apps and high ratings, we feel we are doing quite well. Our product development plans are all geared toward ensuring travellers continue to find high-value in our mobile products.

 

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