mVisitors: Challenges and Opportunities in Mobile Tourism

As chair of the session on mVisitors, at Living Labs Forum Barcelona, May 30 2006, Session 2 I would like to provide a short review of the outcomes of the discussions attended on mVisitors and mTourists by representatives of 12 regions. The point of departure for the session was the fact that a tourist is:

  • normally in a mobile situation;
  • needs instant information and interactive services;
  • is willing to pay for relevant services;
  • a prioritised audience for communities and hospitality businesses.

Tourists and Visitors are today recognized as a prime target group that not only generates economic values to local stakeholders but also tends to act as an eye opener for potential investors and potential citizens. A positive visit acts a proof of concept. In spite of the economic potentials very little has been done to offer visitors tailor-made mobile information services. Two examples were mentioned:

It has been calculated that the recent 3GSM World Congress in Barcelona attracted an income to the city''s economy in the region of 100 million Euros via the 50.000 international visitors. In spite of that, no mVisitors service was offered at the 2006 event. Not even a prototype was launched in spite of coinciding theme of the conference. (Incidentally, a new service called 7010 was launched as a pilot during IGC which will provide several mVisitor services - the pilot sadly excluded foreign mobile phones). The same was the case during the last winter Olympic Games in Torino. An mStrategy for the Olympics was proposed in advance but no decision was taken. In both cases, the situation can be contrasted by the mVisitors system launched in conjunction with the City of Stockholm 750 anniversary a few years ago. The mobile platform was used to show the brand of Stockholm as a leader in mobile ICTs and solutions. A few months later the Stockholm prototype was shown for the City of Beijing. The presentation worked as trigger, since the mobile platform had been pioneered in a real city environment, hence being legitimized. In a city-to-city dialogue trust was generated and the decision was taken to start the so called Beijing Digital Olympics 2008. This example can also be seen as an ideal outcome from a living lab context.

Inspiration and trust was built between two parties and the business community could gain a market access. One natural question was raised: why is it difficult to start mVisitors projects? The answer focused upon the fact that the traditional infrastructural investments are known and easier to cope with along the classical channels and well-known business-models. It was clearly said that some tourism organisations simply do not know that the technical structure is now available and that a breakthrough basically is a question of organisation and some leadership. It was also reported, that often there simply are no mStrategies in the community. In the absence of such an mStrategy few decision makers can act. (In a reference to Barcelona / Catalunya it was said that it was still not too late to develop a mVisitors mobile service in time for the next 3GSM event 2007, priming the ground for a significant impact in 2008. Such an initiative has now been outlined in the so-called branding manual for Living Labs Catalunya where mobile solutions form an important role in the concept of Simpli-City).

A conclusion was reached that well documented pilot projects can act as catalysts (see above the Beijing example) for more proactive actions. Thus, the Living Labs Global Showcase, containing numerous forerunning mobile solutions, can play a crucial role to speed up the European performance even in places where the actors are normally dragging behind. In an innovative exchange, a number of Unique Selling Propositions (U.S.P.), which could be communicated via the mobile phone, were identified from across the participating regions. Since each place has a strong competitive pressure to deliver unique offerings to the potential visitors and to make them visible the session tried to find some natural and unique links between the various living labs.mFood: One such unique theme is the food industry and all the connected offerings. The first cluster being mentioned was the “Kingdom of Culinary Art and Meal” in the middle of Sweden. An in depth dialogue has been established between Living Labs Europe and the City of Grythyttan and the surrounding region. Here a unique culinary university education is established. One of the important resources is a world leading library containing cookbooks and recipes from all over the world. The proposal now is to offer a unique mobile service to customers based on all the culinary knowledge from Grythyttan. For instance, customers in store to buy the ingredients for the meal can use the mobile phone in order to get instant access to the relevant recipe. The mobile service can also contain a supplementary voice-based help which instructs the customer on how to prepare the meal at home in their kitchen. On October 20-21, 2006 an international conference will be arranged in Grythyttan with approximately 250-300 participants from the network of culinary activities. This is a big meeting in the centre of Grythyttan and in collaboration with Nordic House of Culinary Art and other partners.

It was concluded that other Living Lab places may participate in this event. Among the participants interest was expressed from Torino / Piedmonte with its outstanding culinary traditions as well as their unique concept of “slow food”. In addition, IT Øresund, Catalunya, Minho (Portugal) and Budapest notified their interests. It was concluded that the mFood approach is also an illustrative example of collaborative and crossborder effort to build critical mass.

The mobile platform acts here as a gateway for easy access with the customers. It also shows how Living Labs Europe can fulfill its role as cluster-builder. mReligion: Another clustering theme was outlined by Joao Carvalho representative from the Minho region in Portugal. His initiative was named “mReligion” with the aim to improve the access to religious icons and tourist offerings for the growing number of religous tourism activities in the region. Santiago de Compostela was used to illustrate the huge potential for more informative service along the 400 km pilgrimage road ending in Galicia.

In parallel to the above examples the automotive Mecca of Stuttgart could well find a natural clustering approach in the field of automotive mobile road services. One project in the mWatch kaleidoscope is the location based visitors systems adopted for cars and run by M-Lab at the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering. Interestingly enough, Stuttgart may also be ideally placed to address the mTourism and other services for non-urban areas - as the car acts as the information device and space rather than external advertising or service zones - as was presented in the Mobile Marketing in Urban Spaces initiative. Some projects in the same direction are underway in the Gothenburg cluster called Telematic Valley.

Estonia and Finland also host projects relevant for the automotive industry and mVisitors. It should be added that numerous cases in the Living Labs Global Showcase are focusing on mVisitors. As an illustration the following cases are mentioned: Tourist services in Barcelona utilising Bluetooth access points to enable local interactive multimedia services on the mobile (FuturLink); Mobile Marketing in Urban Spaces in Hamburg (with collaboration in Catalunya, Budapest and Vaestervik); Mobile city information system in Stuttgart; Oyster card in London aiming at easy payments throughout the London public transportation with its 26 million travelers each day; Ticket@mobile by XSmart in the Greater Zürich Area; the city of Malmoe provides tourists with a so-called Instant Phone Guide; the Estonian project Audio Guide is available in 6 languages, visitors to Tallinn airport are welcomed via a Wifi area, a mobile positioning system called PinPointMgine in the city of Tartu is helping the visitors to find their way. Stefan Malmborg (Vaestervik) presented the mStrategy of Boat Meet (35.000 visitors 2005), jens Bley (Living Labs Germany) exposed some of the underlying marketing opportunities and infrastructures that should be considered for mVisitors: Train TV, 10.000 Multimedia Booths rolled out by T-Com. Despite this broad range of services, lessons were learnt also from Estonia, where these services are practically unknown to visitor. Marketing of mVisitor services therefore remains a key challenge, as they often rely entirely on the mobile phone (unlike the Mobile Marketing in Urban Spaces model which interlinks traditional with mobile information channels). Whilst impressive solutions where reported from Tallinn, awareness or experience (even by visitors in the rooom) were extremely low.

Another significant challenge raised were the roaming charges. Many visitors prefer not even to switch-on their devices for fear of unpredictable costs. Intransparency of costs (especially data roaming) makes users averse to exploring services. A map for 4 EUR download costs may not even be competitive with an extensive paper version. Examples were presented from the Netherlands (rent a PDA for your stay) or Hong Kong (get a local SIM card with your tourist map) indicate some of the helplessness of some regions in trying to open the mTourism channel.