Mobile location based networking apps such as Foursquare, Gowalla, Brightkite and Loopt are gaining traction in the market. How do they fit into the travel experience? By definition mobile location based networking is designed to help you discover the world around you, a natural connection to travel. There is a gaming element of these apps that allow you earn badges or become the mayor of a frequently visited locations. A new start up TopGuest is working to hook the game rewards with real loyalty points from hotels and other travel suppliers. Traditional media is embracing LBS as The Wall Street Journal integrates restaurant reviews and specific WSJ badges with Foursquare. The Pennsylvania Tourism Board launched a program with Foursquare that has sprinkled 100 tips at locations across the state.The Intercontinental Hotel Group is doing a trial with Gowalla. This is only the beginning. Mobile location based networking has the potential to become your personal concierge. Driven by your personal network, location based apps can have your friends recommend a restaurant in NYC or help you discover a museum in Vienna.
The real question is whether these standalone apps will remain independent or become part of larger social networks such as Facebook or Twitter. Review sites such as Yelp! have added a check-in feature to compete. It has been rumored that Yahoo! has been trying to buy Foursquare. Most apps allow you to hook into your Facebook network already. It is likely that one or more of these apps will become part of a bigger company, but as a category mobile location based apps will continue to have an impact on the travel experience. I would encourage all parts of the travel value chain to take a good look at these apps and figure out a strategy to work with these companies. There is a huge gaming market. Travel companies historically have not exploited games in a big way. Linking a location based service with a destination and rewarding travelers with loyalty points seems like a natural way to enhance the travel experience, promote your brand and increase loyalty.