The ability of augmented reality (AR) to shape the travel sector has been debated for a while but its potential to affect behaviour is perfectly demonstrated by the arrival of Pokémon Go following its launch last month.   

For the uninitiated, Pokémon Go is a mobile game which uses AR to challenge users to find and catch Pokémon creatures within real world locations, superimposed into our homes, towns and cities using GPS and our phones' camera. In short, the game combines the real world with the virtual world. 

Users create their own avatar (character) and captured Pokémon can be trained, improved and sent to battle with other Pokémon in 'Pokémon gyms'. Players use a Pokéball to capture Pokemon and go to Pokéstops to refuel for more Pokéballs (and other items such as potions and eggs) once they've run out.  Additional items can also be purchased to power up gamers' Pokémon.  Under the Pokémon slogan, 'gotta catch them all', players are challenged to capture all 150 creatures. 

In its first week it was reported to have more than twice as many users than dating app, Tinder and more users than Twitter.  Within two weeks it was the biggest mobile game ever with 23 million daily active users.  And it's caused a spending frenzy too, generating over $200m in net revenue in its first month from players according to app analytics platform, Sensor Tower.

So what does this mean for the travel sector? Pokémon Go is already having an impact in tourism destinations across the world and is being exploited to increase visitor attendance and open up new ways to get people to interact and engage with new things.

First of all, Pokéstops are located at tourism attractions and landmarks, mostly in urban places where there's more participants and better mobile internet access.  For example, Legoland, which has 25 Pokéstops, has experienced a change, with visitors going to new areas that they don't usually visit. However the park has banned the use of devices on rides.

Tourism attractions can also host events.  SeaWorld in Orlando aimed to entice players by promising that they would find the 'rarest of the rare Pokémon' inside the park. The attraction has created 'lures' (an additional feature which attractions can pay for) which encourage spawning of valuable creatures. These can generate extra traffic and even purchases, if located next to cafes, ice cream stalls etc. Tourism Edmonton in Canada is also distributing lures around the city and Amsterdam has organised Pokémon themed tours, meetups and festivals.

New Zealand's natural beauty spots appear to be the perfect habitat for Pokémon too and the destination has created a Pokémon themed itinerary which includes some of the country's most iconic locations.    

The Swiss city of Basel has opted for a 'reverse' Pokémon Go approach, posting a video which aims to hunt out new visitors by enticing them to its beautiful old town, River Rhine and bridges.

Opportunists in some destinations are charging visitors for transport on Pokémon safaris' and a Pokémon themed bar crawl in San Francisco was said to have attracted 23,000 attendees according to Facebook. Pokémon themed package trips, including transport, accommodation and restaurants are probably already being planned.

The South Korean city of Sokcho appears to be the only place in the country where Pokémon Go can be played so tourism businesses are making the most of the situation by offering free gifts for players and posting pics of the creatures outside their venues to entice visitors in.

Some attractions have been less impressed with their unauthorised presence within Pokémon Go.  The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has three Pokéstops according to the Washington Post with players having the opportunity to catch Pokémon and collect balls within its walls.  The Museum has appealed to the public to stop playing.

Whilst we're not sure how long the Pokémon Go craze will last, AR does seem to bring a whole new set of tools to the marketplace, encouraging travellers to explore the world in a more social, interactive and engaged environment.  It's not totally unrealistic to imagine Pokémon Tourism taking off with tourists travelling around the world to play, capture and compete.  Watch this space...




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