TT-875 (Tourism Edition) -- Inbound Travel Apps That Give Dogs a Bad Name

Japan Travel
* * * * * * * * TERRIE'S (TOURISM) TAKE - BY TERRIE LLOYD * * * * * *
A bi-weekly focused look at the tourism sector in Japan, by Terrie
Lloyd, a long-term technology and media entrepreneur living in Japan.
(http://www.terrielloyd.com)

Tourism Sector Edition Sunday, Nov 27, 2016, Issue No. 875

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+++ Inbound Travel Apps That Give Dogs a Bad Name

In the English-language digital content world, there are four delivery
platforms that matter to publishers: i) your own website and a good SEO
ranking to go with it, ii) iPhone and Android apps, iii) Facebook, and
iv) YouTube. From practical experience with my www.japantravel.com
travel site, I can say that these are the top platforms reaching the
largest groups of users on PCs, Mobile, social media, and video. While
there are of course many other effective platforms including those
outside the English-speaking world, such as WeChat, Line, Weibo,
Snapchat, etc., since for travel English is the lingua franca I'm going
to refer to that subset.

In addition to choosing the right content delivery platforms, for the
travel industry another important factor is what your audience's
information needs are. As I often tell my ad customers and partners,
there are four key customer touch points:

1. Choosing the destination.
Users first choose the country, then the cities, then individual
destinations. At this early stage, users are looking for inspiration,
which is why the most successful destination marketing sites feature
beautiful visuals, iconic experiences, and unique activities.

2. Booking/buying big ticket items.
When users are set on where to go, they become practical and start
looking for the best deals in hotels, airlines, and possibly transfers
and activities. According to JNTO survey data, this is most commonly
done 2-3 months before they leave for Japan, and this is why foreign
tourists spend about 70% of their budget with foreign firms, even before
they get to Japan.

3. In-country Convenience.
Once in Japan, users are all about convenience - which is why map and
WiFi access applications are uppermost in the rankings at app stores.
This convenience is of course primarily found on mobile phones, and
involves information in a 1km circle around the user, with occasional
extensions when searching for transport options. The content being used
in-country includes WiFi spots, toilets, shops, restaurants, gift shops
(lots of tourists are in Japan to celebrate a birthday or anniversary),
and rainy-day activities

4. Validation.
Validating your travel experiences is one of the key motivators for
frequent travelers, who enjoy being an opinion leader among their
friends. This is why Facebook personal posts are commonly about travel.
When you're a travel provider, there is nothing as important as having a
happy customer validate you and your services. Airbnb knows this very
well and of course builds this feature deeply into their app.

[Continued below...]

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-----------------------------------------------------------

So if we map these touch points on to the delivery platforms I mentioned
earlier, we can generalize that:
* Inspiration-seeking users (Touch point 1) are typically accessing the
web from a PC (70%, according to JNTO), I presume because of the
bandwidth needed for nice photos and videos.
* Buying users (Touch point 2) are also PC-oriented, this time mostly
because travel shopping can involve a lot of moving parts and you need
screen real estate and multiple windows to do it successfully. For
example, you might simultaneously have open an FX conversion site for
yen-quoted prices, an airline arrivals site to cross-reference against
last train departures from your arrival airport, and a weather
prediction site to figure out what to pack.
* In-country users (Touch point 3) however are very definitely using
mobile devices, according to the JNTO, about 80%.
* Validating users (Touch point 4) are likely to use both PCs and
mobile, with the device type depending on how they interact with their
social media platforms. It goes without saying, though, that photos are
most popular because they require the least effort, so validations by
mobile are common.

Of all the above, Japanese sponsors are most interested in the mobile
users who are in-country, because this cohort gives them the quickest
return on investment and also because they know how difficult it is to
compete against the international brands for hotels, air tickets,
transfers, etc.

So you'd think that the mobile content offerings by Japanese companies
to tourists would be significant, right?

Wrong! In fact I was going to write this article about the top 10 best
travel apps available for iOS and Android, but after looking through
dozens of apps, I came to realize that pretty much all the apps
available are either difficult to use, are not yet in English, or cover
wrong content for a mobile audience. As I said earlier, travelers
already in Japan need completely different content to those still
choosing Japan from a list of possible destinations. Therefore, from my
research, the top apps for English-language inbound travelers at the
moment are:

1. Navitime Transit Tokyo, 1m-5m downloads, 39,852 ratings
2. Google Translate
3. Japan Rail Map (by Tokyo Studio), 500k-1m downloads, 2,047 ratings
4. Dig Japan (by Mapple), 500k-1m downloads, 1,619 ratings
5. Good Luck Trip Japan (by Diamond & Bringer Japan), 100k-500k
downloads, 581 ratings

You can easily see that the top theme is how to find your way around,
with a smattering of destination info. What is notably missing in my
list is key geo-specific travel info such as restaurants, activities,
toilets, etc. This is not to say those apps weren't available, it's just
that they are either still in Japanese or they are dysfunctional in
English. Those in Japanese which really need to be in English are apps
like Tabelog, Hot Pepper Gourmet, and Tokyo Disney Resort, while
Gurunavi and other apps with English content are around but are too
spartan in info to be useful.

Then some highly downloaded apps are just plain broken. My award for the
worst app for inbound travelers is KDDI subsidiary Wire & Wireless'
"Travel Japan (TJW) Free WiFi". As you can imagine free WiFi information
is highly searched on both the Appstore and Play Store and the TJW app
has been downloaded over 1m times! Unfortunately this notable exposure
has been wasted because the app is so terrible that it's being almost
universally panned by users, with 30% rating it a 1-star, the lowest
rating. Some of the comments are so painful to read I wonder why Wi2
doesn't take the app down and fix it? It's really a PR disaster for them.

Michael Hicks October 20, 2016
"Confusing mess It's completely unclear what this app is actually
supposed to do for the user. Most of the WiFi hotspots for which it
permits access are already open networks. The app then bombards the user
with continuous 'tips' (adverts) for your trouble. If you want reliable
access to the Internet while visiting Japan, just purchase a traveler's
sim with a data bundle."

Zachary Murray October 26, 2016
"Completely broken App was installed for me by the counter in KIX, but
it has never once worked despite being a premium user. It constantly
connects me to Wi2 hotspots even though I have actually been trying to
avoid them because the app doesn't authenticate me. On top of that, it
takes advantage of whatever limited data you DO have to show you ads as
notifications. In other words: do NOT install this -- it's garbage
adware and will kill your battery for no reason."

...And my favorite quote, from David Jenkins, November 5, 2016
"It is a dog of an app. This is a confusing, badly designed app that
doesn't work very well. I found it a waste of time."

Wi2 is giving dogs a bad name...

Speaking of dysfunctional information delivery to foreign tourists,
another effort that surely deserves an Ig Nobel award is Gurunavi's
collaboration with Tokyu Group and JR Rail, for their uber-hyped Live
Japan responsive website. This collaboration involves the biggest and
most powerful companies in "Japan Inc." and was advertised for months
all over Japan's subways, overland rail hoardings, and entire rail
carriages. I estimate that the advertising spend would have exceeded
US$10MM if it had been conducted on a commercial basis by a
non-affiliated entity. In all of this, the parties failed on three fronts:
1. No mobile app, although the responsive site does load quickly.
2. Advertising everywhere except online - so how are users supposed to
find out about it except on the train?
3. Convoluted non-geo-aware site designed for users surfing back home,
and yet strangely featuring content for in-country travelers.

I would have to say that Live Japan is a typical case of big firms with
too much money, no awareness by the creative director about audience
needs, and probably a committee driving the publishing process. Frankly,
with failures like this, it's no wonder that most travelers download
then give up using Japan-specific mobile applications. Instead they rely
on Google Maps and Translate, FourSquare's rapidly improving Japan data
set, and a handful of trusted transport apps like Navitime and Hyperdia
(which, surprisingly, gets less than 100K downloads a month).

At the same time, given the predilection of Japanese major content
publishers to hoard their data, in case they miss an opportunity a
smaller partner might capitalize on (think JR transfer data, restaurant
listings, events listings, etc.), I'm guessing that this state will
continue indefinitely unless the government decides to get involved with
some kind of free listings project and covers all the translation and
maintenance costs. We're already seeing some regional governments move
in this direction.

...The information janitors/
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-----------------------------------------------------------

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