Many travelers are glued to their phones, so why not put them to even greater use? That's what London tourism officials are hoping to do but whether this will actually help disperse tourism throughout the city rather than generate revenue for already crowded attractions remains to be seen.
More than two billion people worldwide play mobile app games, and London & Partners, the city’s tourism board, only needs a fraction of those gamers and travelers to visit to help carry out its mission to tackle overtourism in central London.
Play London With Mr. Bean is a free mobile app game that shows travelers different attractions around London that, when visited, earns the points to redeem for vouchers and discounts around the city. The idea is to disperse those visitors across the city to avoid congestion.
The game involves different levels, such as visiting a certain number or type of attractions, before travelers can advance to the next. They can also make purchases in the app by redeeming points they earn.
“Play London is really meant for someone who is staying in London for several days and has time to visit many attractions,” said David McKie, global business development director at Pointvoucher, a Copenhagen-based mobile gaming company that developed the game for London & Partners. “You’ll never complete the game because we want people to keep using it and we plan to continue to add new levels, attractions, and offers.”
The game, launched last October, isn’t your typical city or audio tour, either. “We surveyed travelers to find out who they would want to give them a tour around London and the top answer was Mr. Bean,” said McKie. “He’s also very popular in the U.S. and other key markets London & Partners is trying to reach.”
The app has 600,000 downloads so far and engagement remains high, said McKie. “It’s kind of like a Candy Crush concept,” he said. “Keeping it fresh and relevant is a challenge of the designers. But we can also flavor it for specific events like fashion week, for example.”
Play London is one of the first examples of a destination using mobile gaming to engage with visitors and encourage them to spread out to different areas to reduce overcrowding in a city center. The game brings users to Greenwich, for example, which isn’t well-known to many tourists.
“This is an interesting commercial opportunity and a potential revenue stream as well,” said Dan Hill, director of commercial ventures, digital & e-commerce at London & Partners.
For Play London, Pointvoucher will get a cut of the revenue the game generates, such as through in-app purchases and sponsorships, but the model will differ for future cities the company works with, said McKie.
The game currently has 75 offers available in the voucher store that travelers can redeem. “These are things like free cups of coffee and discounts on boat tours,” said McKie. “We’re giving vouchers to lesser-known attractions high priority in appearing in the game.”
Getting Data From Play London
Collecting data on where Play London’s users are going and understanding how travelers move around the city was the shiny value proposition for London & Partners, said Hill.
“This positions us as being innovative as a DMO which isn’t usually an association you make with DMOs,” said Hill. “This also helps us directly support some of the goals of our mayor, Sadiq Khan, who wants to take people outside of central London.”
London & Partners has been actively promoting outlying neighborhoods and offseasons in recent years. The city projects it will have more than 40 million overnight visitors per year by 2025, up from more than 30 million overnight visitors last year.
“We’re formulating a strategy about how we can address overtourism and we’re extremely aware of the issue and it’s certainly a contributing factor in why we’re looking into this,” said Hill.
The game will have geolocation enabled soon, which will enable London & Partners to serve travelers with offers and discounts specific to their locations, said Hill.
“Because of GDPR, we have to be especially careful with what kind of data we collect from users,” said Hill. “We can track the levels they’ve played, the vouchers redeemed, and can see how many people are visiting specific attractions.”
Play London is separate from Visit London’s mobile app, which is less than a year old. “We’ve promoted Play London in a small way before. I know Pointvoucher plans to start actively promoting the app. We’re really pleased that the game has managed more than half a million downloads so far with virtually no promotion.”
Bringing Mobile Gaming to More Destinations
Pointvoucher plans to bring the Play London concept to other major cities experiencing overtourism. “We have a list of the top 10 tourist destinations in the world that we want to bring this too,” said McKie.
“We’re talking to an Asian country that has a popular TV character who is very tidy and we would use that character to encourage people to recycle and clean up,” said McKie.
Play London is also adding dining and entertainment rewards in July that travelers will be able to use points to redeem. It’s certainly an interesting experiment to gauge how willing travelers are to play along, but it remains to be seen if the discounts and offers Play London users redeem will be concentrated in congested central London – which could defeat one of the core purposes of the game.
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Photo credit: Mr. Bean look-a-likes, pictured here, on the London Eye helping to promote the Play London with Mr. Bean game. London and Partners