With the content — user-generated and owned — that Empire State Development’s Division of Tourism is pumping through its online properties, repurposing the content for mobile consumption and aligning its digital effort with its business goals is the next logical step.

But that’s easier said than done when it comes to expecting a state agency to meet the standards set by tech companies.

New York’s Division of Tourism launched the I Love NY app with a television commercial a in January. The main purpose of the app is to provide a discovery tool for travelers in-market with suggestions on-the-go driven by pre-existing content that is featured on its website.

Within two days of its launch, I Love NY claimed to have attracted more than 5,000 downloads from iTunes and Google Play. According to the state, users visited 3,205 attractions that were on the app, and people who downloaded the app spent an average of one minute and 19 seconds on iOS and five minutes and 41 seconds on Android.

What the App Offers

Overall, the app is easy to navigate and gives a good sense of the entire state and through a pop-up clickable map.

The best use case for the app is in location. Travelers can opt-in in with their location, and the app provides places to stay, eat, drink, and see anywhere in New York State. In addition, the app has the capability to send push notifications about 200 of the top attractions vetted by the state’s Tourism Promotion Agents (TPAs).

For more tailored experiences, travelers can click on a desk bell icon to get to the Concierge feature, and this generates a curated set of suggestions based on pre-selected categories including arts and culture, family fun, food and drink, history, natural beauty and outdoors, and shopping. Then it gauges how far you want to travel — 25, 50, or 100 miles, and during what season. Depending on the combination you will get a choice of itineraries with each listing a selection of places.

Users can favorite itineraries and listings in-app, and email and share individual listings on Facebook or Twitter. In addition, users can toggle between events that take place during the current month and onward; listings by top interests such as adventure, attractions, food and drink and places to stay; and favorites.

Still Working on the Kinks

Skift put the app to the test from our offices in Manhattan and opted-in to share location information. Much to our chagrin, the app produced incorrect location-based results. Partners, such as regional destination marketing organizations and local businesses, were not positioned to benefit from the end-user activity at this phase.

After choosing Catskills as a region in the welcome screen, Greenville Arms 1898 Inn showed up as being 6.1 miles away, when in reality, it is 134 miles away, according to Google Maps.

ILoveNYApp_LocationError

From the Listings menu, Attractions results were empty. In its latest update (February 4, 2015) this was addressed. The results from Events showed all the events in the state, but did not have the functionality of picking one region’s events. For example, users couldn’t filter for things to do just in New York City.

 

On the topic of optimizing social sharing, Anna Pakman, Director of Digital Strategy at Empire State Development, explained, “All of the listings on the app are fed by the database on the ILoveNY.com site. Twitter handles are not a data point that our TPAs and partners currently provide, which is why they’re not included in the share copy, but it’s certainly something we’ll take into consideration as we update our criteria.”

ILoveNY_SocialSharing

The end goal for tourism boards is to increase visits and stays. The current iteration of this app is a missed opportunity because it fails to connect the dots among its partners in that it doesn’t track visit or booking referral information from app activity.

The state tourism board didn’t conduct at consumer study prior to building the app. Instead, the research that supported the project was based on its competitive advantage against state tourism boards in America. “We took a closer look at state mobile apps and found that, on average, these apps have just over 2,000 downloads,” Pakman stated. “This ranges from ~75 on the low end (Nebraska) to 14,900 on the high end (Texas).”

Building an app is a challenge, and building an app that can deliver an experience to a user that’s on par with a Google Maps or a Foursquare is a challenge that few tourism boards seriously consider, and fewer still actually achieve.

“Essentially it’s about being creative and finding ways to best leveraging their destination-focused resources that the Google Maps and Yelps of the world can’t provide,” on evendor  that works with multiple tourism boards told Skift. “We want the apps to leverage what would make visitors want to interact with a DMO/CVB in the first place – ‘local expert’ advice and a more curated, all-the-good-info-in-one-place experience.”

As New York demonstrates, that’s easier said than done.

Source: I Love NY App Commercial video via YouTube

Tags: app, i love ny
Photo Credit: Testing new I Love NY app. Joyce Manalo / Skift