How could location social networking sites help create jobs, promote nature conservation and reduce poverty? In UNDP Montenegro, we believe that social media tools can be a part of a solution to raising living standards in the north of the country, aligning economic development with nature protection, and strengthening Montenegro’s position globally as a nature-based tourism destination.
The northern region hides many natural and cultural gems, and yet while Montenegro gets some 1.5 million visitors a year (and this number is growing), only five to seven percent of them venture to the country’s north.
Location-checkers, Can We Do Something?
How can we use social networking to reach these 1.5 million people headed for our beaches, attract them to Montenegro’s in-land protected areas for a one or two day trip and inspire them to try out goods and services the local population offers? We have a hunch that social media could play a role in linking people who wish to experience something different with those who are economically disadvantaged, living in beautiful protected areas and who want to offer thesetypes of activities.
Our plan has 3 parts:
- We will work with graduate students who will team up with various communities in the protected areas of Montenegro to identify compelling, novel and unique stories about the country’s history, culture, nature, and people.
- We will turn the stories into 1 or 2 day tourism products that would be fully owned and endorsed by the communities. After all, no one can tell these stories better than the local communities.
- We would like to test a location-based social networking service like Foursquare to tell our stories. We believe this would allow communities to establish a direct link withthe tourists, generate their own content and offer some new experiences not featured inthe mainstream marketing. Everything a tourist would need is a smart phone and a car to get to the location of our story- Foursquare tips, lists of things to do, places to see, experiences to try and unique tips will take care of the rest.
You are probably wondering about the quality of infrastructure in the northern region including WI-FI access. We think that successfully attracting potential visitors to protected areas would drive the need for investment in infrastructure, in conservation programs, and indiversification of goods and services. Though, in the meanwhile, we are aware that an initiative like this may raise expectations, and if perceived as a failure, it is likely to reduce the chances of similar initiatives in the future.
Examples, but Unique
You may also wonder whether and if so how successful Foursquare or other geo-location services have been used in similar situations? You can follow Mayor Bob Buckhornof Tampa, Florida for the best of Tampa to see and experience. The state of Pennsylvania also partnered with Foursquare for tourism. We came across some fairly high profile examples from Mexico and Japan, too. But none that looks into using social networking to link nature conservation and job creation.
We also have some questions of our own:
- When thinking about the idea, we mainly had western Europeans in mind as potential clientele? Is there a market among Montenegrins or among our neighbors for sampling our stories?
- Given the passion for sports and competition in this region, should we think of turning the stories into a game, an adventure of answering puzzles, looking for treasure,collecting points and badges, and in the end winning a prize? There are several spin offs of Foursquare for this exact purpose, the geographically closest one to Montenegro being developed in Slovenia- Oust.me.
- If we succeed in luring tourists away from the coast and to the north, how can we mobilize them to use the same technology that got them there in the first place to improvethe tourism offer in the north? In what other ways can we use social networking and smart phones to promote nature protection and create new businesses in protected areas? We’ve come across an interesting idea where tourists are contributing to science, and noise management in cultural heritage destinations.
- Could we use Foursquare for a more traditional marketing– to inform tourists about Montenegro before they actually decide where they will vacation?
- Could we, for instance, track (with their consent!) where do the tourists go between the two check-ins, in real time, so we can feed this information back to local municipalities to improve infrastructure, and to local businesses to offer better targeted goods andservices?
- Are there other location-based services that may be more suitable than Foursquare? What about Ushahidi?
- Is there an Indiana Jones of mobile apps out there who could create a hybrid of Instagram and Foursquare?
We think there are potentially many benefits to this idea- we will generate some new stories about little advertised destinations in Montenegro; introduce a new means of harnessing community activism; provide new avenues for entrepreneurship and stimulate investment in a variety of services; and maybe even open an entirely new method (geo-location services) for positioning our entire tourism industry. But we may be a bit biased, so what do you think?