With the Pokémon Go mobile game sweeping the nation, some agile tourism brands are tapping into the manic interest around the smartphone app to drive near record levels of engagement with their audiences.
Welcome to the Pokéconomy. According to SurveyMonkey, Pokémon Go is now the most popular mobile gaming platform ever in U.S. history, since launching less than two weeks ago on July 6.
Two of the first travel organizations to respond with Pokémon-themed promotions, Visit Anaheim and Travel Portland published new posts on Monday showing where visitors and locals can find Pokémons and PokéStops at local attractions.
Basically, the goal of the game is to catch digital gremlins (Pokémon) in the Google Maps-based app at specific places around a city (PokéStops), and compete with other gamers. For more info, read this Pokémon primer.
First, here are a few statistics:
- Today, SurveyMonkey reported that 26 million Americans played Pokémon Go on Google Android and Apple iOS apps yesterday. The company said, “More people use the maps in Pokémon Go (which is powered by Google Maps) than Google Maps itself.”
- According to Gizmodo, “Pokémon Go has already been installed more times after a week than Tinder in five years.”
- According to SimilarWeb, “Pokémon Go now has more daily active users than Twitter.”
- The Pokémon phenomenon might not flare out soon. It was only available in the United States, Australia, and New Zealand for the first week. Due to server capacity concerns, the apps just began to roll out elsewhere in Germany on Wednesday and the U.K. yesterday.
Pokémon Go is eventually going to fade into the mobile games graveyard with other once ubiquitous titles like Candy Crush and Clash of Clans. However, the last 10 days have shown the engagement potential when travel brands are able to develop digital promotions literally overnight to capitalize on surging consumer attention.
The Rise of On-demand Destination Marketing
During last weekend, for example, some of the marketing and communications staff at Visit Anaheim started talking about how the bureau should do something cool to tap into the massive audience growing around the mobile game.
By Monday afternoon, the bureau published a page directing viewers to attractions in the city filled with “rare and exotic” Pokémon, including Disneyland Park, Anaheim Convention Center, and the Anaheim Packing District.
Within 24 hours, for anyone searching “pokemon anaheim” in Google, “Best Places for Pokémon Go in Anaheim” appeared near the top of the first search results page.
“Our daily web traffic on Wednesday was the highest since September and the third highest overall,” said Charles Harris, senior VP of marketing for Visit Anaheim. “I come from a background in technology and sports, and you absolutely have to take advantage of the news today.”
He added that he wanted a balance of options between the leisure and convention markets, as well as a mix of both iconic and lesser known attractions.
The reason this worked, Harris explained, is that Visit Anaheim’s employees are encouraged to pay attention to breaking trends, brainstorm potential brand synergies with those trends, and respond quickly with a combination of online content and social media.
“It’s about speed, flexibility, and being lean and agile,” he said. “You almost have to become your own agency today.”
There’s also a series of Instagram photos on the page with the #pokemon hashtag that the bureau staff is uploading manually. At the bottom of the web page, Travel Portland posted links to other websites in the city describing where and how to catch Pokémon most effectively.
“Portland is a really compact and walkable city, but when we first started talking about creating a walking itinerary around Pokémon, it started out as a bit of joke,” said Courtney Ries, VP of marketing at Travel Portland. “But then, since we have the back-end technology in the website to create on-demand content, we thought, ‘How can we do something more?'”
This is the first time Travel Portland has created a digital promotion like this in real time, according to Ries. She explained that it’s a challenge to get the entire team onboard and engage everyone all at once, which she said “is a pretty big ask” for any tourism bureau, every time there’s an emerging pop cultural trend. “But we knew we could step in and provide some content that was truly helpful and offered real value for our locals and our visitors.”
Within the first 24 hours, the page was viewed 1,400 times, and it’s now the fourth most viewed page on the website. The value of the promotion to date is that, “People are making decisions about what to do in Portland based on the game, so they’re going to explore places they might not otherwise have on their way to find Pokémon.”
The Rise of the Pokéconomy
Tourism and hospitality leaders are mostly bullish on Pokémon Go’s ability to get people outside around the city, meeting people and patronizing businesses.
Chris Schutte, director of the Greater Springfield tourism bureau, said in the Springsfield News-Sun, “This potentially is a tool that lets people experience the rich world around them and discover things you go by every day and not pay attention to.”
Similarly in the Palm Beach Post: “If tourism attractions can capitalize on this burgeoning app, it’s a simple and free way for them to reach a potentially untapped market,” said Ashley Svarney, spokesperson for Discover The Palm Beaches. “The Pokémon Go game is an opportunity for businesses to latch on to a trending social phenomenon that can act as a draw for visitors and residents to visit.”
In countries where people don’t have access to Pokémon yet, they’re starting to make some noise.
Eduardo Paes, the mayor of Rio de Janeiro, posted his feelings on Facebook. Translated, it reads: “Hello, Nintendo! There’s only 23 days left until the Rio Olympic Games 2016. Everyone is coming over here. Come too! #CidadeOlímpica #Rio2016 #PokemonGoNoBrasil.”
Naturally, not everyone is pleased with Pokémon’s popularity, where already over five percent of Android users have downloaded the app, including 10 million people on Tuesday alone.
First, there’s been no shortage of health scares in the media about not paying attention while playing Pokémon, resulting in car accidents and surprise encounters with corpses in rivers. But from a travel standpoint, the complaints so far seem to be pretty mild.
Quoted in Canada’s CBC News, for example, Amy Biebrich was vacationing in Ottawa with her kids who seemingly never looked up from their Pokémon pursuits.
“We’re wandering around looking for Pokémons, interrupting our sightseeing,” she said. “Instead of actually seeing what we’re supposed to see, we’re now looking for little creatures and hatching eggs.”
There are also concerns about appropriate behavior at some cultural venues. For instance, the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. is asking would-be players to not engage the three PokéStops available in the facility.
“Playing the game is not appropriate in the museum, which is a memorial to the victims of Nazism,” Andrew Hollinger, the museum’s communications director, told The Washington Post. “We are trying to find out if we can get the museum excluded from the game.”