Music-themed tourism: mobile apps are turning the volume up

From Graceland to Strawberry Field, music-themed tourism is big business. Now by combining location information, music, words and images, smartphone and tablet apps are giving marketers additional opportunities. Andrew Hennigan explores how mobile developments are working for the music business and wonders whether tourism authorities everywhere are doing enough to exploit the opportunities.

This year is the 50th anniversary of the famous British band The Beatles. So more fans than usual will no doubt be wending their way down Penny Lane or visiting Strawberry Field, real places in the UK city Liverpool that inspired the lyrics to some of the band’s most famous tunes. In Liverpool, where The Beatles grew up and started their career, there are many other sites to visit. There is the Cavern Club, where they played before they became famous, and the house at 251 Menlove Avenue where John Lennon spent his childhood.

In London fans may also visit an ordinary pedestrian crossing on Abbey Road, with its own webcam, where the famous four were photographed for the group’s final album cover. They might gaze up at the roof of a nondescript office building at 3 Savile Row, once home to the offices of Apple Records and more famously the scene of the band’s final rooftop concert in 1969. 

Of course, plenty of traditional guide-books exist to help tourists find these locations, but increasingly people are turning to mobile apps that combine images, music, words and maps to guide people to famous locations and provide a context for the visit.

For the Beatles alone there are apps like Beatles Walk London, a 99 cent iPhone app that guides fans to selected Beatles’ sites in London, and Beatles Story Liverpool, a free app that guides people to sites in the city.

But there are also more comprehensive music apps like Zuztertu’s London Music Mapp, a free iPhone/iPad app that guides fans of all kinds of music to clubs, landmarks, studios, stores and other places of interest. “London Music Mapp is a travel guide to London’s many popular music locations,” explains Zuztertu  chief executive and founder Gerlinde Gniewosz. “It entertains and informs music fans with facts, maps and images illustrating London’s musical heritage, vibrant musical presence and unique musical geography.” 

The London Music Mapp app isn’t limited to one band or genre; it covers music of every type. And that is not all - the design also reflects the way many visitors use the London Underground to navigate the city. “If you have some free time and you want to check out what musical things are on in the neighbourhood you can simply choose the nearest tube station and see everything in the vicinity,” explains Gniewosz. “These can be special musical landmarks, streets mentioned in songs and live music venues.”



Booming business

While in London music tourism is just a small part of the overall business, in Liverpool it plays a much larger role - thanks mainly to The Beatles.  Across the pond in the US city of Memphis it is the primary tourism driver. “Tourism has a $3 billion a year impact on the Memphis economy,” says Bob Hazlett at Memphis Travel, the city’s destination marketer, “and this is largely based on music-themed attractions like Beale Street and Graceland”. 

Beale Street is well known to music fans as the home to clubs where Memphis blues was born a hundred years ago; Graceland was the home of Elvis Presley and is now a museum. The city has other music attractions: the Sun studio where the first rock and roll singles were recorded, the Stax museum of American Soul music and a Gibson guitar factory. All of these contribute to the music tourism business worth $2.9 billion in visitor expenditure last year, according to the Memphis & Shelby Tourism Impact Report.

Memphis Travel is very active in using technology to promote the business. “We’ve rebuilt from the ground up to take advantage of mobile technology,” says Hazlett. It has launched iPhone, iPad and Android apps that use location-based functionality to find nearby attractions.

According to Hazlett, major attractions in the city are also developing their own apps. “The Elvis Presley museum, for example, provides official apps featuring music, interactive content and even – for the Elvis Visitors Week app, an on-screen candlelight video for vigils.”

Captivating classics

Music tourism smartphone apps are not just for popular music and they are not just for finding historic locations. Bachtrack is both a website and an iPhone app created specifically for classical music fans. “We help people to find live concerts, opera and ballet,” says co-founder David Karlin, “and we have about 10,000 events in our database.” 



Bachtrack covers the entire world though at present the coverage is strongest in the US and the UK. The content is crowdsourced so listings are posted by users; usually these are written by the promoters of the concert, opera or ballet but it can be anyone. Basic listings are free but people can also pay for enhanced listings or buy advertising space.

Bachtrack users tend to be mixture of older fans and younger people studying music and the company is seeing strong growth as smartphones become more widely adopted. “For long-term planning you are probably going to use the website,” adds Karlin, “but if you are out with friends and trying to decide where to go to the smartphone app is going to be most effective”. Karlin, a developer himself, is enthusiastic about tablet apps because the larger screen can show more, but cautions that the fragmentation of the market makes it demanding to make apps work on a wide range of platforms. “From a developer point of view it is actually quite tedious to make an app work on many different tablet platforms,” he says.



Yet this fragmentation is part of the growth of mobile Internet devices, with both smartphones and tablets showing much stronger growth than traditional computers.

This growth is creating a larger user base for mobile apps, providing another very effective marketing tool for destination marketers, music venues and anyone else connected with music tourism.

“Tourism apps are becoming increasingly popular,” says Gniewosz, who has also developed a London Museum Guide app, “but I think that tourism authorities are only just recognising the importance of mobile technology.”  In some cities like Memphis this has already happened; for many others it is an opportunity still waiting to be exploited.



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