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Why most DMOs fail developing their own successful app?

As Covid-19 accelerated the trend towards independent tourism, tourist destinations now increasingly consider having or revamping their application. Having a city app with maps, recommended places to visit, self-guided itineraries and audioguides to better cater to the FIT travel segment sounds tempting. In fact, our survey showed that 32% of DMOs do not have a guide app, but consider it in the near future. But most of the destinations that developed their own visitor apps in the past failed miserably. We talked to dozens of DMOs who struggled with their own apps. In this article, we summarize the takeaways you should know if you ever consider building a guide app.

The top reasons why custom-built guide apps fail:

  1. High costs and long timeline of building an app. While it is possible to build a very basic app from a template at moderate cost in a few months, proper apps cost hundreds of thousands of Euros. Tier one destinations such as London or Vienna budgeted around 1 Million Euros to develop a proper destination application. It took 2 years and massive budget overruns for the city of Prague to publish their city app. If your budget is limited, be careful, because you get what you pay for.
  2. Poorly designed product. Travelers are used to and expect the quality they see in other travel apps, such as Uber,, Airbnb, or Google Maps. Keep in mind that it took these companies a huge development team and years of iterations to develop such a great product. Even with best intentions, a city official can’t design an app that would get anywhere close to this. They also seldom plan years of iterations on the city app. Most apps designed by DMOs fail to deliver on the expectations of modern app users.
  3. Low uptake. Travelers don't want to install a new app and learn a new interface for each destination they visit. They are used to having Uber,, or TripAdvisor wherever they go. It does not help if they see that the app has 500 downloads and poor ratings. Such apps are deprioritized by app store search and few DMOs plan the marketing budgets required for a new app to build up some traction despite all the headwinds.
  4. Underestimated maintenance. An app is not like a website that you create once and then it can work for a decade. Even if the vendor delivers an app that works flawlessly at launch, it deteriorates over time as Apple and Google update their operating systems. For example, both app stores recently changed the way location permissions are handled to protect user privacy more. Guide apps that rely on geolocation require an update, but most DMOs don't plan sufficient budgets for such maintenance. Developers who built the app are working on different projects so any update is complex. DMOs often give up on maintenance and in 2-3 years the app is crashing so much that they shoot it down and have to start all over.

Visit London is one of the few successful proprietary destination apps. Did you know it cost more than €1M to develop and over €2M to maintain for 5 years since then?

Why reinvent the wheel? SmartGuide built a powerful guide technology for DMOs to overcome the problems that destinations developing their own apps struggled with. There are good reasons why using SmartGuide is better than developing your own guide app:

  1. Ready-made to guide your visitors tomorrow. We’ve already developed all the technology you need - YouTube for destination guides. SmartGuide saves you the hassle, time and costs of making your own guide app. All you need to do is add your content either yourself through our Content Management System or let our team craft a turn-key guide for you. You can start with any budget and don’t risk discrediting yourself by building an expensive app that does not work.
  2. Attract more independent travelers on a platform. Travelers are more likely to download a proven application like SmartGuide with a 6-digit number of downloads that offers guides in over 500 destinations globally than a new app for a single destination. Your destination will also be featured in nearby destinations and get extra visibility. Our users often use SmartGuide to plan their next destination.
  3. Engage visitors with an outstanding experience. Delight travelers with insightful storytelling, convenient navigation, and authentic experiences. SmartGuide uses audio narratives to engage travelers more than just text. More satisfied and loyal visitors lead to more word-of-mouth marketing and more visitors.
  4. Stay free of any maintenance headaches. SmartGuide development team constantly upgrades the app and reacts to the latest app store changes. We provide automated updates and take care of user support, so there’s no headache for you and no extra IT budgets.
  5. Get a suite of powerful destination management tools. SmartGuide is a lot more powerful than custom-developed apps. How about insightful analytics about users to enable smart destination management? Easy content updates in a few clicks? Automated audio using cutting-edge AI? Sending messages to users? SmartGuide has it all and more.

Are you also ready to join the future of travel? Let's have a chat.