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QR Codes in Tourism Marketing

QR codes have become a ubiquitous feature in the tourism industry. They can be seen on everything from museum exhibits to hotel brochures to sketchy decals stuck to the backs of stop signs. But sometimes, it seems like QR codes are being used just for the sake of using them. In this article, we’ll explore some of the worst uses of QR codes in tourism – and have a good laugh along the way.

QR Codes in Social Media, Email, and Websites

The whole purpose of QR codes is to carry information from off of their phone (print, TV, you get the idea)  to within their phone. Codes in email signatures, social media posts, and within websites do little more than complicate what would be sufficiently served by a link.

You may be thinking “But Patrick, you big dum-dum-pants, Instagram doesn’t allow links in their posts,” and you’d be right. However, try pulling up Instagram on your phone, then scanning a QR code you see in any of the posts. Instead, get a tool that allows multiple links in your bio — until they find out a way that you can use your phone’s camera to scan your phone’s screen.

The Difficult Menu

I’m getting to an age where menus are getting harder to read. I’m not using my phone’s flashlight yet, but I can see that day coming.

Since 2020, QR codes on tables that link to restaurant menus have become pretty common. What’s also common is the PDF with tiny, almost illegible type that the QR code guides you too. Or worse yet, a website that’s not mobile-friendly or just a link to the restaurant’s homepage.

The best approach is a very simple webpage (legible text, high contrast, no images) with accordions for main categories so everything is on one page without causing thumb cramps from scrolling.

The Impossible Tour Guide

QR codes are often used to provide self-guided tours of museums and other attractions. But what happens when the code is inaccessible? Imagine you’re at a historical site, and the QR code on the plaque is too high up for you to reach. Or perhaps it’s so faded that your phone can’t even recognize it. Or there’s no signal. All of these have happened to me, and I’m 5’11”.

The Obsolete Information

QR codes can be a great way to provide up-to-date information about an attraction or event. But what happens when the information is no longer accurate? Imagine you’re at a festival, and you scan the QR code on the schedule. It takes you to a page with the schedule for the previous year’s festival. Chaos ensues and your visitors can’t tell if the schedule is wrong, they don’t know the layout of the event well enough, or the event planners were just a wee bit incompetent.

Unfortunately, it’s often the latter.

The Unfortunate Bathroom Experience

Let’s finish with an example from a particularly unfortunate bathroom experience. I’m out and about exploring a new city, and I suddenly realize that nature is calling. I rush to the nearest public restroom, and as I’m washing my hands, I notice a QR code on the wall. Curiosity gets the better of me, so I scan it. And what do I find? A survey asking for feedback on the cleanliness of the bathroom.

I decided to leave a lengthy treatise on why the answers they’re getting are all probably negative.

In conclusion, while QR codes in tourism can be a useful tool, they’re not always used to their full potential. From surveys in bathrooms to hidden gem restaurants that aren’t really there, the bad uses of QR codes in tourism can be downright laughable. So the next time you’re planning on using a QR code in your tourism marketing, make sure it’s being used the right way.


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Patrick King

Patrick is the Founder of Imagine and advisor to places on brand strategy and creative. His insights have been published in Inc. Magazine, SmartCEO, Washington Business Journal, The Washington Post, and Chief Marketer, among other publications, and shared at conferences throughout the US. He also has an amazing sock collection.

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