On a trip to San Francisco in August of 2007, I had a meeting with a client that finished just before lunch time. Needless to say, I was hungry, and being in San Francisco, I knew I could find some interesting eateries. But instead of asking for recommendations at the front desk, I did something that I have been doing since the first day I bought my Garmin Nuvi 660 Global Positioning System (GPS). I left my hotel, turned it on, and was able to browse through a list of nearby restaurants, some of which I would never have found otherwise.
As the GPS guided me to a Turkish restaurant called Alaturka, a thought crossed my mind, one that I shared with the owner when I arrived - "Did you know that I found your restaurant using my GPS?" The owner had no idea.
But should he? My thoughts and the owner's uncertainty led me to pursue a research study on the topic of U.S. consumer use of GPS with Dr. Silvia Ciccarelli of the University of Rome. Preliminary results are very promising for the hospitality industry.
As evidenced by the presence of GPS on the list of hot holiday items for 2007, a growing number of U.S. consumers are using GPS in their everyday lives. This is further supported by the study's findings: only 33% of the U.S. consumers we polled had not used a GPS within the last 12 months, and only 4% did not know what a GPS was. Among those who had used a GPS within the last year (63%), 14% had rented or borrowed a GPS; 7% had a built-in GPS in their vehicle; 28% owned a portable/dashboard GPS; and 5% had a phone with GPS capabilities.
The vast majority of consumers (94%) agree that a GPS makes life easier, while 84% indicate that they feel safer with a GPS. What's more, 11% even indicate that they can not travel without a GPS. For many consumers, a GPS is a personal thing - approximately 30% name their GPS (e.g. Jack, Jill) while 34% percent talk to their GPS (e.g. "Good job, Jack!" or "OK, Jill, take me there!").
However, the most important and relevant finding for the hospitality industry is that 30% of respondents said that they travel more because of their GPS. More than half of consumers (55%) would like their GPS to suggest tourist attractions to them and 42% think that a GPS could help them plan their vacation. Furthermore, 65% of consumers who used a GPS in the past 12 months found and ate in restaurants that they did not know of before because of their GPS. When it comes to lodging, 51% found hotels this way, while 47% were able to find tourist attractions with the help of their GPS.
This reality has not gone unnoticed. Recognizing the powerful marketing opportunity that a GPS offers, Dunkin' Brands inked a first-of-its-kind licensing agreement with GPS manufacturer TomTom (www.tomtom.com) in February 2006. Under the terms of the agreement, users can download the Dunkin' Donuts and Baskin Robbins logos onto their devices as points of interest. The systems can also be programmed so that drivers are alerted as they approach a local Dunkin' Donuts or Baskin Robbins location.
GPS maker Garmin (www.garmin .com), meanwhile, has partnered with Entertainment Publications, best-known for its coupon-filled Entertainment Book commonly used for school and community fundraisers. Owners of the Garmin GPS can sign up to receive 45,000 special offers on everything from ice cream treats at Cold Stone Creamery to shoes at Athlete's Foot.
GPS: Here to Stay
If you haven't already noticed, the one take-away from this study should be that a GPS is a powerful marketing tool. The systems drive business to hospitality operations. Accordingly, hotels and restaurants need to contact GPS manufacturers to ensure that they are listed in GPS databases, and that their listing provides the correct information for GPS users. Hospitality operators should also offer downloadable point-of-interest information on their website so customers can input location information into their GPS. This is a tool that's here to stay. Don't get left behind.