Top 5 CVB Apps that Go Beyond the NormBy Bill Chapin

Mobile guides that focus on what makes a destination unique

At this point, the vast majority of convention and visitor bureaus in the United States have released an application for smartphone or tablet. In iTunes and Android app stores, you can find mobile software with information on destinations ranging from Colorado Springs to Carrollton, Ga. And for the most part, they all follow the same format: Icons bring up information on local attractions, accommodations, restaurants, special events, and deals and coupons; the information is often integrated with maps to show what is nearby.

That’s all well and good—and often pretty useful for visitors—but it’s not likely to make the destination stand out. And for bigger cities, these apps are competing with guides produced by travel companies and local media outlets, along with review services such as Yelp and TripAdvisor. So what’s a destination marketing organization to do?

One answer is to focus on what makes a city unique and to build an app around that idea. CVBs might include this as a feature in their mobile travel guide or they might release a separate app in addition to—or instead of—a more general guide. Below are five examples of CVBs sprucing up their mobile offerings by embracing their identity.

Alton Eagle Watch
iPhone/iPad; Android
(Alton (Ill.) Regional Convention & Visitors Bureau, Collinson Media & Events)

Located on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River north of St. Louis, this downstate destination is one of the best spots in the country to see bald eagles. Each December, thousands of eagles migrate to the area, staying through March to feed on fish in the river’s chilly waters. The app offers a map identifying popular spots for eagle watching and reported eagle sightings, with a button to add your location should you spy one of them. The CVB also offers an app geared toward the autumn months that highlights road trips for viewing the colorful fall foliage.

Historic Gettysburg Walking Tour
iPhone/iPad
(Gettysburg (Pa.) Convention and Visitors Bureau, Mudbrick Creative)

Next year, Gettysburg will commemorate the 150th anniversary of North America’s largest battle, but this app looks beyond the battlefield to focus on historic sites in the city’s downtown and their connection to the Civil War. The interactive guide allows visitors to learn about U.S. Rep. Thaddeus Stevens’ ties to the city, tavern owners who were accused of harboring Confederates and Abraham Lincoln’s visit to deliver the Gettysburg Address.

Louisville Urban Bourbon Trail
iPhone/iPad; Android
(Louisville (Ky.) Convention and Visitors Bureau)

Kentucky’s largest city is taking a shot at attracting visitors by utilizing the state’s historic connection to corn whiskey.  The app offers a map of watering holes where bourbon fans can sip and sample the spirit, highlights local distilleries’ products and suggests drink recipes.

Nashville Live Music Guide
iPhone/iPad; Android
(Nashville Convention & Visitors Bureau, MusicCityNetworks, LLC)

Part of Nashville’s efforts to focus its branding on the city’s rich musical heritage, this app is designed to help visitors (or locals) find places to hear concerts and live performances. There are lists of clubs, lists of shows, tracks by country artists to sample and even an augmented reality feature that will show you who’s playing on whatever street you’re walking down.

Travel Portland official app
iPhone/iPad; Android
(Travel Portland, VisitMobile)

In many ways, this is a typical mobile visitor guide, except that the Oregon city is totally down with its hipster reputation. A “Be Pdx” option, identified by an orange icon featuring a handlebar mustache, lists businesses under such categories as “Bike Culture,” “Brew and View Movie Theaters,” “Food Carts,” “Tattoos/Piercing” and other ironic, urban-bohemian groupings that you’ve probably never heard of.

Image: Screenshot of the Louisville Urban Bourbon Trail app