Case Study: Sonoma County iPhone App

iVisit Sonoma County iPhone App

About an year ago, PhocusWright correctly predicted that “apps will embrace location and context in a new way” and forever change the way consumers enhance their travel experience while actually moving around a destination.  While it’s unclear how mobile platforms and apps will impact the traditional “travel guide”  (see: ‘The iPad Effect on the Travel Industry & The Future of Visitor Guides), it is clear that many destinations are finally trying to tap into influencing what travelers do when “they get there”.

Today, let’s look at the new iVisit Sonoma app, a new iPhone application recently launched by the Sonoma County Tourism Bureau.   Like many of the travel apps in the market, this one allows visitors to use an intuitive navigation panel to pull up things to do and places to see as they travel this bucolic valley  nestled in the northern California coast.  Using Google Maps as a guide, a visitor can easily pull up nearest wineries, breweries, hotels, restaurants or wine country events.  And what’s more, visitors can also personalize their viewing preferences; for example, if you’re craving the Pinot noirs of Santa Rosa, the search functionality allows you to do just that.   Today however, we wanted to dive deeper than just functionality (if you’re curious about functionality, check out  this review by wine blogger Ed Thralls) and bring you some perspective on the strategy behind the development of the app and glean insight into Sonoma County Tourism’s thoughts on how mobile can enhance a DMO’s marketing mix.

Tim Zaher, Sonoma County Tourism Dir. of Public Relations & Marketing and Keri Hansen, the bureau’s Marketing Manager were both kind enough to indulge the Travel2.0 team and let us “get inside” their heads!

How do you see the iVisit Sonoma County app complementing the County’s other marketing channels—the printed travel guide, the website and the blog etc.?

We think the app will fit right into our marketing mix. The visitor guide and printed map are handy tools, and we know from an ROI study that people who order the guide and map online are 70% influenced to visit, and 60% actually visit. For every guide we fulfill, we get over $450 in destination spending. (This is from a study we did about 2 years ago, so will be interesting to see how those numbers change when we do again.) Our websites and blogs serve multiple purposes – help people in the discovery phase (choose our destination when choosing a vacation) as well as in the planning/booking stage (the booking engine to ensure they book in our destination) and then to engage people with information about Sonoma County to make them our advocates, hence the blogs and facebook posts.

The app will fit into the mix because it can be used very easily in destination to find wineries nearby, filtered by the types of wine you like, or festivals like Wine Road Barrel Tasting can be a part of it and have their own part of the app, with just their partners and activities mentioned. If you are coming here for one of the Barrel Tasting weekends, you can plan out your route, see who is tweeting about the event and immerse yourself in the experience with your iPhone.

Was the app built with the idea of easily extending its functionality to other emerging mobile platforms such as Android and RIM?
The app is built on a database, and we hope to take what we learn from the different versions of the app for the iPhone and roll out to other platforms. In Sonoma County we draw a very tech savvy visitor – people who are into the nuances of wine and dining have great overlap with first adopters in technology. Plus, drawing from the SF Bay Area, Sacramento and LA as major markets means we have a savvy, with-it crowd. We better be ready to cater to them, and they are going to be using mobile devices to plan trips, connect socially with friends on trips (or brag about their vacations while on their trips…) and get information in-destination.

From a data standpoint, it appears that the listings for tourism info such as wineries, hotels and breweries match the listings on your main site. Is your staff able to maintain just one tourism database and have it automatically syndicate across your platforms?

We actually have two, one internal and the other is our website.  The app is powered soely by our web database so was we grow the information on our website, we can add additional filtering to the app.

Any early analytics on how consumers are using the app?
The app has only been out for a week, so no good strong data. I know we have gotten downloads from people in over 15 countries, though we joke that half of those might be the developer team. Check back with us in another week and we will have some good stuff. Promise.

What are your biggest learnings to date?
Biggest lesson of all is this app, like every other DMO marketing tool, will be a work in progress. We have big plans for incorporating new information and technology. Since we are funded by a Business Improvement Area, and are not membership based, we have to change the way we collect date from well over 1,500 businesses to ensure we have the most up-to-date data possible to feed the data beast which in turn will feed multiple channels (website, visitors guide, wine map, iPhone app & mobile site).

Kudos to the Sonoma County Tourism team for this brilliantly simple app! We love the Sonoma County app for three main reasons:

  1. Usefulness: The app is a simple but resourceful “in-market” guide laden with comprehensive content for the visitor….in fact, we couldn’t imagine going to Sonoma County without it!
  2. Content: The content for the app is not “locked” within the device but instead a “living & breathing” entity that is synchronized with its other content platforms (website/internal database)
  3. Brand/Storytelling: The app provides the county a mechanism to talk personally to each and every visitor and an invaluable long term brand building tool; just imagine the possibilities if every visitor to your destination would tell you their preferences and shared their travel stories and photos?

Comment? @travel2dot0 or email.