Go Foursquare or perish, tourism industry warned

Ask most Australians what Foursquare is and they'll probably tell you it's a chain of retail stores.

But the tourism industry is being told to jump on board the new social networking rage, or risk losing business and being left behind.

Foursquare is a social networking tool that allows users to track the location of their friends through GPS, and share information and reviews about businesses and attractions in their areas.

It's also a game, with players picking up badges and the title of mayor by visiting cafes, restaurants or hotels and tourist attractions that give them the chance to reward repeat customers with discounts or gifts.

And now it's about to have a huge impact on the tourism sector, and indeed on all businesses, says social media commentator Laurel Papworth.

"Foursquare is word of mouth in its purest form," she told AAP.

"When you click on, you write a review or make a statement, `The service is great here', or `Great coffee - terrible cakes'.

"And remember, this is all mobile: you're not in front of your computer, you're on your mobile phone and your comments can be linked automatically and published instantly on Facebook and Twitter.

"It also puts a pin in a map so that people can click on this pin on your Facebook status update or on Twitter and see where you are physically located."

Ms Papworth said businesses were starting to wake up to the promotional power of the Foursquare game.

"Businesses are asking people to show their mayor badges and they're giving people a free coffee, or 10 per cent off.

"Foursquare has done a deal with CNN with secret location badges for the World Cup soccer so if you go to any of the big ESPN hotel lounges around the world to watch the World Cup and you check in, you could suddenly get a special badge, but the locations are secret so you never know if you're going to get a badge which gives you World Cup goodies."

Ms Papworth will brief operators on the potential of Foursquare and other developments in social media at the Tourism Futures national conference in Brisbane from July 5 to 7.

"I don't think they know that it's out there, and if they did see it they'd think it was a stupid game for kids because it's all about points and badges - and what's all that about?

"But I had a chat on Twitter with A.J. Bombers, a huge hamburger chain in the USA, because I heard they've sold 30 per cent more burgers by giving out these badges and the guy came back to me and said: `Yeah. It's true'."

Tourism Futures convenor Tony Charters said this was "must have" information for anyone involved in marketing a brand or destination in the tourism industry.

"While part of the industry has engaged social media, this is clearly the future of communication and a key decision-making influencer," he said.

"The Tourism Futures Roy Morgan industry survey shows over 50 per cent of respondents from across the industry are using social media for internal communications and marketing.

"The entire tourism industry needs to understand and embrace this new space."

Ms Papworth said people were shifting away from word of mouth whereby they go to specific websites to leave a review or get feedback on businesses or attractions.

"I think we're shifting into actual lifestyle, where it's now just part of what we do.

"The boundaries are being pushed further all the time and growth and development in this sector will only be fuelled by new technology like the Apple iPad.

"I think the core thing is that what goes on Foursquare doesn't stay on Foursquare - it stays on Facebook and Twitter.

"Today, three years after Facebook was introduced into Australia there are now nine million monthly active users on Facebook, and they're about to announce in the next couple of weeks that they've reached the half a billion mark worldwide.

"It would be an oversight to have a Facebook and Twitter strategy and not realise that people are doing live Facebooking and Tweeting from this third party application called Foursquare.

"Pulling everything into one dashboard and learning how to save time is critical, but there are tools for that - this is not something to be frightened of."

AAP

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