IN-DEPTH: Interview with Charel van Dam, online marketing director,

Published: 05 Aug 2010

IN-DEPTH: Interview with Charel van Dam, online marketing director,

Mobile technology is particularly useful for all types of travellers, because it provides them with easy access to important travel information while they are on the road.

Some exciting partnerships and offerings are emerging for mobile devices in the travel industry. Quite a few of them are related to location-based services and augmented reality (AR).

For instance, Lonely Planet is set to embed AR features into new, Android versions of its mobile city guide apps, overlaying place-of-interest information on pictures seen through travellers’ cellphone cameras. Lonely Planet has already stated that it is the first travel publisher in the world to make new ‘augmented reality’ products available for Google Android handsets launching a series of Compass Guide applications to highlight points of interest in cities.

In another development, TripAdvisor has formed a partnership with Nokia, which will include an Ovi app for Nokia’s Ovi Store, and integration of the TripAdvisor service into Nokia’s Ovi Maps. The TripAdvisor for Nokia app allows travellers to search for popular hotels, restaurants and attractions in their vicinity, as well as find the cheapest airfares available. Nokia users can now find and filter hotels and attractions by rating, distance and price.

Charel van Dam, online marketing director,, who is scheduled to speak about location-enabled social networking and AR at the forthcoming two-day Online Marketing and Social Media Strategies for Travel Summit Europe 2010 (5-6, October) to be held in Prague, says, “I think location-based deals apps are a wonderful development and I think we’ll be seeing an explosion in the number and type of applications. It will be like turning a street into a supermarket isle. Roaming charges still remain a challenge for travellers, especially if you want to serve them up to date information.”

Location-relevant advertising

Location-relevant advertising, which uses location information technology to target end-users with relevant advertising on their mobile devices, continues to gain prominence. The fact that iconic brands are increasingly looking at this medium, both in terms of strategy and budgets, points out to the potential of this emerging opportunity. Some of the enticing benefits of such targeted marketing include relevant promotional offers, trying to catch consumers when they are in proximity of merchant storefronts, and also driving impulse store visits. Solutions in this arena harness location content and capabilities to pinpoint where consumers are, deliver ads and calls to action within a few feet of advertised points of purchase, and guide them to the merchant’s doorstep.

van Dam believes that top brands in the travel sector are increasingly looking at this medium, both in terms of strategy and budgets, points out to the potential of this emerging opportunity.

“I would think so, as should any new development. When it comes to location-based advertising I would say it depends on the brand and how much can be waged from someone’s location. A consumer’s location alone in most cases doesn’t say anything about what he/she wants or needs. The fact that I’m at an airport could just mean I’m there to pick up someone. Relevancy is key,” he said.


The sector needs to respect and protect privacy and be ruthless in protecting the data. At the same time, specialists believe that if a campaign is correctly targeted, it adds value to the user, and therefore to the brand.

“Google and Amazon both hold a tremendously rich data set against my profile that at one level makes me anxious when I think about it. On the other hand, its that data set that allows them to offer such a useful service to me. If I hold back my data, their service is less compelling for me. I think the same dynamic exists with location,” says Rob Lawson, chief marketing officer, Brightkite.

For his part, van Dam again emphasised on the significance of being relevant.

He said, “The most effective way to push anything is to push custom offers the consumer wants/ is open to receive - whether he/she realises it or not. Mobile phones, like regular phone lines, are very personal and you can see from the success of do-not-call lists that consumers do not appreciate being ‘disturbed’ by unannounced non-custom offers. As long as you stay from that, I’d think there shouldn’t be an issue.”

Augmented reality

AR is new technology that melds real-life views with overlaid digital information as tags delivering a sensory experience that feels real. The handset’s GPS capability determines the exact location a person is standing, while an internal compass determines the direction the user is looking.

Location is a key dimension of AR. An online travel company like Expedia says Virtual Reality is likely to have a big impact on travellers in the near future. This can be anything from translating a menu using Google Goggles to putting the guidebook to one side and using a virtual reality layer on your phone to picture the street in front of you and get links to restaurant reviews or travel information.

van Dam says, “I would agree with Expedia on that, and although I’d be corny to say I think things will shape up as you see in some sci-fi movies. AR is so much bigger than just travel. Also, a mobile phone in the end probably isn’t the best tool to display AR, personally I’d prefer something handier than continuously hovering a phone in front of my face. Now that I come to think of it, with a little luck commercials will disappear off the streets and buildings and only be served in AR.”

One of the major benefits of AR which has emerged is related to visualising the city/ various attractions. Travellers can look through their smartphones all the tourist attractions in the area at a heightened, surreal view. Also, no Internet connection is required.

On how as a tourism board, his organisation has started embracing AR, van Dam said, “We’ve actually started to use AR as another way for consumers to get informed on what to do and see in Holland. We have a wealth of information that’s on our website, but instead of trying to get consumers to come to our site, we’re looking for ways to be where consumers are. For now, our AR Holland layer just displays which attractions and other tourism related points of interest are around you. However, that’s just first step. One of the avenues we’re currently exploring is to apply our knowledge of our product to connect different points around the tourist and create new experiences that cater to different needs of visitors.”

Travel guide publishers have started introducing travel guides for iPhone, featuring AR feature alongside user-generated content and automated trip planner (the guide suggests the most personalised trip).

For his part, van Dam said, “As what we’re trying to do with our Holland layer, these travel guides attempt to combine the dots, using UGC and more to create something that is useful and of value to travellers. A challenge with automated trip planners is that they need to ensure that personalised is just that and not built on a few random assumptions. Personally I’m not a big fan and we’re still far off from anything I’d consider using.”

Online Marketing and Social Media Strategies for Travel Summit Europe 2010

Charel van Dam, online marketing director,, is scheduled to speak at the forthcoming two-day Online Marketing and Social Media Strategies for Travel Summit Europe 2010 (5-6, October) to be held in Prague.

For more information, click here

Or contact:

Gina Baillie
VP Global Marketing & Events
London, UK: +44 (0)207 375 7197


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