4 Reasons Why an App is the Wrong Choice for Your Destination

Why Your Best Content and Features Should Never be Stuck on an App

Yes, an app is appealing. It’s a completely immersive, device-based experience for your visitor. Events, content, discounts—the features are alluring. Some destination marketing organizations (DMOs) put the development of an app above a website.

For large destinations, apps can be an incredible tool in the traveler’s experience. But for small and medium DMOs, investing in an app is a mistake.

Let’s talk about four reasons why.

1 – Device-based Apps Are a Barrier to Engagement

Travelers have two critical stages of when they need information about your destination: during their planning and during their visit.

Planning Stage

Your future guests are searching for activities, reading up on events, and figuring out where to stay. They’re talking to friends on social media. They’re scrolling through hashtags. They may even be Googling “what to do” in your community. All of that is happening outside of your app.

For your guest to engage with all of your wonderful in-app content they need to STOP.

GO to the app store.

DOWNLOAD the app.

RETRACE their research and…


When They’re Visiting

A couple has just arrived in town to catch a concert but want to grab a nice dinner first. Like most users, they’re pulling out their phone. The hotel’s desk clerk mentioned your community’s app had some useful tools.

Go to the app store. Download the app. Install the app. Login to an account. These time consuming steps create a barrier to valuable content.

The spouse is hangry and just asks the phone’s digital assistant for the closest Italian spot.

Are these examples universal? Absolutely not. But these situations do demonstrate the potential issues of relying strictly on in-app content to promote your members.

The response in favor of the app is simple—if the traveler knows about the app, then they’ll know to use it.

How does your traveler know about the app?

2 – You Must Market Your App AND Your Destination

Marketing budgets are tight. Every penny you invest in promoting your destination must be well planned and brilliantly executed. Promoting your app falls within that plan.

Using an app to deliver critical content means the first step in engaging your traveler will need to be them downloading the app.

Last August, my family and I traveled to the coast of Maine.

“I wonder if Maine has an app?” is not a question I asked.

How would Visit Maine entice me to download the app? They could demonstrate the features, showcase discounts, or share how easy the whole experience is. Maine could do a ton of great marketing to encourage me to click “download.”

Except that’s the problem. You’ve done all that marketing to have me download an app. Did Maine share their incredible experience? Nope.

For an app to be successful, it must be downloaded. We’ll skip the subject of App Store Optimization (ASO). For argument’s sake, let’s say you do execute a brilliant campaign. Where will you send them to learn more about the app and ultimately download it?

A website.

3 – No Matter How Good Your App Is, Your DMO Still Needs a Website

Not all searches happen on Google. Travelers are searching for ideas on Instagram and younger travelers are searching TikTok. Booking.com and Airbnb may be at odds for actual travel, but one thing is clear—planning searches are still happening on the web.

Your destination’s website is a critical connection to travelers. Whether they’re planning to arrive in a month or they checked-in last night, your website will remain the primary source of information.

Imagine this. You’ve just sat down at your hotel’s bar after strolling the downtown shops all day. Next to you, a lovely couple is beaming to your spouse about their experience with a sunset kayak route. You’re sold. You want to find a similar experience!

What is the first step? Whether by voice or by typing it in, you’re doing a web search to discover the local DMO has an article and sample itinerary.

4 – You’re Not Going to Find App Content in a Google Search

You’re focused on finding a great experience while you’re in town. Ideas may come from social media or the person next to you. Either way, it begins with a search.

The majority of apps house their data and their content on servers focused on delivering traffic to specific devices. That same data is not available to searches from the web. The two are not connected.

Your DMO invests in great content. By placing it exclusively on an app you are hiding it from most travelers.

Almost like the best restaurant in the world placed on an island with no way to get to it. Even if it’s THE best—no one knows about it and no one can get to it.

Are there ways around isolated content? I’m certain there is. For most DMOs, the level of sophistication required can put app development costs well out of reach.

So Now What? Focus on Your Website!

Apps have a great purpose and provide overwhelming convenience in the right situation.

Your destination’s website is the primary touchstone. Not just search—social media, email, digital marketing, and countless other channels all connect to your website. When built right, your website flourishes on mobile devices (and will have far fewer glitches).

For the overwhelming majority of DMOs, investing in your website, focusing your marketing on travelers, and creating engaging content will deliver far greater returns than the development of a device-based app.