A good portion of the PhoCusWright report about tours and activities that was published in January, 2011, is dedicated to "Local, Social, Mobile MOJO".
As with the in-destination tour and activity segment in general, there is a lot of potential to capitalize on the mobile and local channels for in-destination tours and activities.
Unfortunately, it's still too early to consider mobile as an effective actionable channel, and here is why.
Location based services are neither influential nor actionable
Despite what services like FourSquare, Gowalla, and Facebook would hope, for travellers, these mobile apps are neither influential nor actionable.
For the most part, they just plain stink when it comes to compelling people to do a locally offered tour or activity.
That's not to say they are not relevant for locals, but for travellers, becoming the mayor of a coffee shop or checking into a favorite cafe just isn't realistic.
For tour or activity providers, whose primary clientele are inbound tourists, incentives for repeat visits make even less sense.
The other issue with location based services is that tours that travel through a city or around an area don't have "a" location, they in fact have many locations.
Local deals don't influence travellers
If you've read my articles in the past, you probably already know that I don't drink the local deals kool-aid. I don't have anything against the business model, in fact, the local deals model works very well for about half of the businesses who use them and extremely well for the local deals companies.
That said, as actionable as local deals are, they don't have any influence on inbound travellers and don't build repeat customers for local businesses who offer tours and activities.
They are a great way to get locals to try something new, but ultimately a local probably isn't going to use a tourism service again and they more than likely won't pay full price for it.
Maps on mobiles are important but operators aren't ready
Only a small percentage of local tours and activities are geo-tagged. Since most (86%) of small tourism businesses don't store their product data in a reservation system, it is safe to assume that most don't have geo-location data available for their products either.
The number one requirement for location based mobile search and booking of tour and activity products is that the product must be searchable using a location aware device.
If a traveler is standing somewhere and pulls up a mobile application that will find tours and activities around them, the assumption is that the tours and activities around them have been geo-tagged.
Since that is not the case with nine out of ten operators, the chances of actually finding anything "around you" is pretty slim indeed.
Bookings are actionable, listings are listings
As it stands, the best bet to find a local tour or activity operator is to use the local yellow pages app for an iPhone or Android device.
But, if you plan on doing that, then you might as well browse those endless brochures in the hotel lobby as well. The bottom line is that, even if you can find a tour or activity using a mobile device, you probably won't be able to book it.
Why? Because building a decent mobile app is expensive for a small business and it's a one off install anyway.
Think about it, how likely are you to download and install an application for a sightseeing company and you're only going to use once?
So, you're left with apps made by the OTAs or an aggregator, in which case the product is probably being offered through a third party reseller who doesn't have direct access to live availability and cannot book without at least a one or two day cut-off or even a confirmation from the supplier.
Searching, browsing, and finding a local tour or activity that is compelling will inevitably lead to the traveler wanting to consummate the relationship with a booking and right now, that means a "click to call".
Is it any wonder that 36% of travelers still use brochures to search for local tours and activities?
So when will the tours and activities segment get their mobile MOJO?
I hate to sound like a broken record here but mobile and social MOJO will elude the tour and activity segment until the small businesses that make up the majority of the segment start adopting reservation systems, get websites, and start taking ecommerce seriously.
But, we as an industry, can't expect small business to take these things seriously if we don't show that there is a pent up demand for what they offer.
With the recent surge in tour and activity metasearch sites like Goby, Flextrip and PocketVillage, we may be at the beginning of something different, a growing trend focused on the promotion of unique products offered by small businesses.
For now, however, the only thing mobile about this MOJO is the brochure you pick up and stuff in your pocket.