The first mobile decade has seen the emergence of a binary response in the digital platforms of nature tourism providers. This reflects the either/or decision making process facing both providers and users alike. Will they or won't they offer/choose-to-access a downloadable app product?
New product developments in relation to webapps, smartphone optimised PDF guides and local area network wi-fi hubs offer the chance to develop a more nuanced approach to the delivery of digital platforms.
Expanding from a binary focus to a digital ecosystem model presents an array of opportunities to provide a more nuanced and adaptable platform upon which to explore further areas of digital integration in the second mobile decade.
Binary systems – confronting choices
Deciding whether or not to invest in downloadable app product is a challenge for small to medium scale nature tourism providers.
Aside from the startup capital establishment costs to create both Android and IOS product there is the recurrent expenditure to consider. This variable must take account of mobile operating system upgrades and the need to respond to these.
The user also has to decide whether to commit to download the product.
Are they familiar with downloading product from their relevant app store? Do they have access to wi-fi to download the app or is their mobile data plan easily up to the operation? Do they have spare storage space on their device to house the app or do they need to constantly prune photos and music to free up additional memory?
This commitment threshold in relation to first the delivery and thereafter the user uptake of the app product is inbuilt into the binary system model. It has singular points of connection with little or no chance to customise these to the operational needs and scale of the project under consideration.
From marketing to service delivery
The biggest drivers of the binary digital model over the past decade have been the retail and marketing sectors. There the notion of getting commitment on the part of both provider and user is not seen as a problem as this is the central element to any transaction process.
Nature tourism providers also need to promote their products and experiences to the marketplace as part of their core business.
For them however it is not enough just to complete the transaction - to get the visitor to commit to an outdoor experience. They must also deliver a service that allows people to transition cleanly and seemlessly from 'planning' to 'doing'.
It is this interface that poses the greatest challenges and opportunities for delivering an integrated user digital experience (UX) across the whole of visit cycle from planning, through execution and on to post visit connectivity.
The right tool for the job
The best tool you'll ever have is the one you don't remember using.
The Google search engine is the iconic digital example in this regard. It's just there on hand to do its job seemlessly without drawing attention to itself whenever you need to reach for it on any desktop or mobile device.
This simple approach underpins the delivery of a digital ecosystem platform. It is there to ensure the visitor has simple and direct access to the digital content they need, where and when they require it.
Delivering this service must take account of not only the user's needs, but also address the managerial capacity to provide this service as an ongoing part of recurrent operational activities.
Overreliance on any single point of connectivity in this regard is to be avoided. The digital disruption of the last decade has shown that future technological developments are difficult to predict. The digital ecosystem's capacity to respond to change and actively embrace future innovation is an essential criteria by which assess any digital platform.
Digital ecosystems – bringing digital into the standard workflow
An emerging trend over the first mobile decade has been for digital product solutions to become smaller and more bespoke.
Customised digital design solutions for specific settings is increasingly required by both providers and users alike. Agility and access to an array of easily adaptable core digital platform options provides the future toolkit for managers.
In this context, websites and downloaded apps take their place as just another component/option in an expanded digital platform. Solutions need to be easily scaleable relative to the project setting involved.
Just as a manager thinks nothing of publishing visitor orientation content via signage at a trailhead, neither should they pause to explore how digital support in this precinct can solve long running issues that impact both their staff time and budgets.
Digital content doesn't fade in the sun, is beyond the reach of vandals and can communicate easily with non English speaking visitors. Today the establishment threshold has been reduced. This makes the delivery of bespoke digital locality-specific solutions as simple and cost effective as traditional signage.
This is not to say that digital can or should replace signage. Simply that when the two work togther they can achieve efficiencies that are beyond those of either media acting in isolation.
The empowered user
In the wake of the first mobile decade the profile of the typical park user has changed forever. User groups now bring their own essential technology with them in the form of their mobile devices.
People no longer need technology supplied. What they need is content - relevant content precisely customised to the needs of the setting they have entered. Working with the preinstalled apps on the user's device to deliver this content is the first and simplest way of engaging with people in the outdoor setting.
1. THE PHONE CAMERA
The first powerful app for user enagagement is the phone camera. This now delivers the inbuilt capacity to scan QR codes and deliver people directly to a customised landing webpage. Knowing where people are standing when they snap the code means we can connect them with a digital experience of direct relevance to their setting. Many visitors currently use their phone to take a reference shot of the map usually on offer at a trailhead. Positioning a QR code link beside the map means that they can now be prompted to download the map and associated trail notes in a PDF smartphone guide.
2. THE INTERNET BROWSER
The functionality and complexity of this inbuilt app makes it a powerful and effective tool for the delivery of content including video. Whilst the browser is at its most potent in areas with internet coverage where it can deliver language translation on the fly, it can also work in concert with a local area network delivering a locally hosted web-app solution.
3. PDF READER APPS
The capacity to store and read PDF files offline is standard on IOS phones via iBooks. Most Android users will have acquired this capacity via a suite of other commonly loaded apps. When used in concert with the internet browser providing a portal to download PDF smartphone guides, this option allows users to embed content onto their phone at trailheads for use along the trail in areas remote from either internet or local area wi-fi coverage.
Content - the only future proof investment
An important consequence of the digital delivery model where the user brings the technology and the manager delivers the content is that it largely future proofs the investments in digital platform development.
As more efficient iterations of existing technologies like web browsers, video players and cameras emerge, the capacity to experience and interact with the content will only increase over time. By standing alone as a separate asset rather than being bound up with the technology that delivers it, the content archive is never at risk from technological innovation.
Ecosystems - responsive to adaptation and change
This notion of building robust systems that adapt to and embrace technological change is the basis upon which the digital ecosystem model rests. Stability through diversity is its underlying principle.
While any one element within the system may prove more or less powerful and significant at various times, its underlying strength derives from its connectivity as part of a larger system.
Additionally the system is open to innovation and engagement from numerous points of connection. Democratising the "digital codes" and opening the digital ecosystem up to the operational sphere of management is already underway. Codifying and understanding this process is a valuable means of responding to it in a strategic manner.
Falls Creek Alpine Resort example of the digital ecosystem model in practice