Terrie's Take 875 (Tourism Edition) -- Inbound Travel Apps That Give Dogs a Bad Name

Terrie's Take terrie at mailman.japaninc.com
Mon Nov 28 00:30:57 JST 2016

* * * * * * * * 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.

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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Reservation Deadline: Wednesday, January 4th, 2017

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.

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Written by: Terrie Lloyd (terrie.lloyd at japaninc.com)

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