Andrej Perc is a founder and managing partner of Creatim. His articles reflect the expertise and skills of the entire team.
The world is beautiful. And this can be a problem.
At least for many national or regional tourism boards who find it increasingly difficult to compete for potential visitors. In a crowded market filled with all the wonders of the world, how can you stand out from the competition? How can you attract new visitors?
According to Expedia, a typical traveller visits 38 sites before booking. She is looking for new experiences. In the 12 weeks leading up to a trip, there are 3X more experiences searches than hotel searches and 8X more experiences searches than air searches.
So, despite all the online tourism agencies' (OTA) offers, eventually travelers will want to hear what the destination has to say to them. Hence, the website remains a pivotal touchpoint in any destination marketing initiative.
Basically, the website is a place where the destination experience starts from.
Poor images, outdated content, and too long response times can easily be projected on the destination experience as a whole, deterring potential visitors and making them consider other alternatives.
I don’t want to scare you. It is just that you will have to do many things right to achieve the outcome you strive for.
What this guide will tell you
This guide focuses on key areas that a tourism board or a DMO needs to consider to make their tourism website project a success. It will teach you:
- How to set clear goals
- How to make sure everyone understands them and agrees on the outcome
- What to consider when creating the user experience
- How to ensure that the end result will match the original idea (tech stuff).
But first, you need a plan.
Set clear goals.
Know your brand strategy
This article presumes you already have some kind of overall destination marketing strategy in place.
You should have a sound understanding of who your visitors are, what drivers them to your destination and, even more importantly, what are the obstacles that deter them.
Finally, you should have a visual identity system in place and you should have a clear understanding of what are the unique attributes of your destination.
Website purpose and goals
Let’s dive into the website’s role in the overall marketing strategy of your brand. What must be achieved for the project to be successful? How will you measure success?
You know who your most profitable visitors are and you want to attract more of them. Is your goal merely to inspire them, leaving the booking part to your partners or do you also plan to help them with trip planning and booking? And if this is the case, will the site own the processes or will they be done via third party integration? Considering the integration - do you simply plan to embed the third party's code or do you have deep integration in mind?
This is just a small fraction of questions that have to be answered to give you a clear picture of what you are trying to achieve.
And most importantly - who is entitled to answer such questions?
Make sure everyone is on the same side.
A destination’s website seems to be everyone’s business. It is usually owned by a local/regional/national tourism board and has many stakeholders. Next to the delivery team there are hotels, agents, service providers and related businesses, influencers, local communities, etc.
And as we all know, a website can mean many things to many people.
Typically in such projects there is no absolute authority to impose strategic decisions. Consensus is the name of the game. Though a board may own the project they have to rely on their soft management skills not to vex the stakeholders upon whom the project is dependent.
Each of the stakeholders may believe their goals are the most important. Even so, the tourism board must be able to bring focus to shared strategic directions while considering their individual interests as well.
Aligning the stakeholders on the main solution principles and project goals is absolutely crucial for the success of the project.
It is your job as a project owner to
- Engage the stakeholders to support the project and proactively participate in high-level decision making.
- Make sure everyone shares the same picture of what the final outcome should look like.
I didn’t say it will be easy.
In addition to their different opinions and goals, stakeholders may have limited knowledge in digital marketing. You will have to educate them first and conduct several workshops to help them understand the basics of website design. And don’t overburden them with technology. Focus on fundamental principles instead and discuss
- Project purpose and goals
- User experience principles
- Content strategy
- Social media strategy
- Roles and accountabilities
Once you have reached consensus on these principles write them down.
The Solution Principles Document should be written in plain English without unnecessary technical jargon. It does not aim to provide answers for everything. It is about high-level decisions that frame the future solution.
The document may be updated later on to correct assumptions, setting new decisions and updates. But it will require some formal process to make any significant changes after a sign-off has occurred.
The Slovenian Tourist Board did a great job in setting clear solution principles and project goals. They presented the potential solution providers with the basic site structure, corporate identity guidelines, user personas elaborate, old site fit-gap analysis, and various market insights.
Make sure the document is approved and signed off by all the stakeholders' representatives (usually summoned in a steering committee).
This gives you the green light to take off.
It is time to get more technical. To layout fundamental architecture, design directions, and scope, you will have to determine
- Requirements (functional, technical and creative)
- Implementation Approach and Methodology
- Architecture Overview
- Interface Catalogue
- Operational Model overview
- Infrastructure and hardware sizing
Now you can estimate the resources needed and set a timeline for the project. You can use a Solution Outline document as a tender for the subsequent phases like solution design, development and hosting services.
Know your visitors.
On the flip side of business objectives there are user expectations. If you market a region or a city with a wide range of offerings you will attract very different visitors profiles: foodies, action seekers, culture geeks, socialisers, etc.
Each of them with their own distinct set of questions, desires, hopes and fears.
As each profile requires its own content and social marketing approach the effort multiplies with the number of profiles. The amount of work can easily become overwhelming. So if you don’t want to lose the compass try to limit them to 3- 5 user personas that represent your most profitable visitors.
The buyer journey in tourism is an iterative, circular process, typically consisting of five stages: dreaming, planning, booking, experiencing and sharing. It is important to have deep knowledge of all customer touch points, whether online or offline. Considering the stages you plan to cover on the destination website, what content do you need?
Draft an experience map to analyse the journey of each persona, including emotional states and pain points. Ask yourself which of these can be addressed by the website and how you can meet their specific needs.
From dynamic content and tagging to automated optimization tools and chatbots, there is a variety of options through which the tourism website experience can be tailored to its visitors. Use their activity data to identify their expectations and develop personalized services for them.
Solution design: how to create an enticing tourism website
Choosing a holiday destination is a stressful process. We have all been there before. We are distrustful. There is no free trial, so if we make a bad choice, we may ruin the "time of our lives". We are after great memories, not frustrations. How can this uncertainty be reduced?
The first attribute that comes to mind is - trust.
To have any positive effect on prospects, your destination's website has to be believable. It may sound ironic but unrealistically beautiful photos and a cheesy narrative full of superlatives can have the opposite effect.
Be sincere. Employ user-generated content to provide evidence for your claims thus increasing your users’ confidence.
Product descriptions on www.slovenia.info leverage testimonials and comments on social media as a social proof.
Tell your story.
Your destination is unique so telling a distinct narrative shouldn't be difficult. Storytelling is great for SEO and can generate traffic. But you have to put it in the context of various personas and answer their specific questions along the way. Is it suitable for children? What does the cuisine look like? Can I hire a mountain guide?
With that said, words alone are not always the best way to tell a story. First impressions count and it takes an eye-catching photo or a video to forge an emotional link with the user in the first few seconds of their visit to the site. Use great images to underscore the narrative but avoid stock images at all costs. Users can always tell a stock image from an authentic one, and once they do, there goes your credibility.
Find the right balance
Your stories sound nice, but are they believable? You have to counterbalance them with user-generated content that provides social proof. Leverage user analytics to find the right mix.
The same goes for well-known attractions and must-sees. They may be beautiful, but in reality, they are usually over-commercialized and overcrowded or even dull. Amend them with some hidden gems that tease and provoke excitement.
Trip Planner Australia offers visitors a choice of their personal mix of attractions and experiences.
Invite visitors to co-create your website. Why? Because social media is the most effective and affordable way of marketing. You will employ your visitors who will be happily selling for you 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for free!
Use visitors’ social media postings to support your main story. And vice versa - Invite them to tag and rate your content and to share photos on social media.
www.slovenia.info encourage users to pick their favourite photos and share them on social media.
Nothing shows experience, quality and safety better than endorsements and testimonials of previous visitors. Scatter them all over your website. Short and digestible as they usually are, they provide the evidence users seek: People have been there before me and they look well (it is safe) and they are happy (value for money).
Nothing can improve your bottom line better than a coherent social media strategy.
Leverage flat architecture, and streamlined navigation to allow users to land at the content of their interest in no more than 3 clicks, regardless of the device they are using.
Employ user data analytics and customer journey mapping to ascertain what content users prefer on mobile devices and what tasks they perform on their desktops. Adjust the design accordingly.
Offer an interactive map where users can research points of interest and filter them according to their preferences. On www.visitnorway.com an interactive map provides a good overview and convenient first glance information on relevant locations. And with the click of an icon on the map users can access additional information further exploring the destination.
While using emotions in your narrative helps to establish emotional bonds, do not forget that users come to your site for a reason. They are looking for practical information and advice. Provide them the right information in the right places. Where appropriate offer specific insights that can't be found anywhere else online. This way you demonstrate insider knowledge about the destination, building credibility among potential customers.
What are your visitors after? Ask them. Employ guided decision-making, trip planners and chatbots to help users filter out the most relevant content and organize their trip around it. This way you will motivate them to move closer to the end goal: the booking.
Usually solution design articles end with - well - solution design. However, I think it is important to tackle the development principles as well.
They say an idea is only as good as its execution. Creatim's developers practice DevOps approach to avoid typical dissonances between solution design, development, and operation teams. Sometimes it takes just a minor design adjustment to substantially facilitate the development process and avoid unnecessary costs. It pays if the teams talk to each other.
What good is a great solution design if it takes 10 seconds to open a link or if the functional copy in the Russian version is mixed with English or if it is a challenge for editors to find a particular content in a different language version? To avoid such issues onboard a solution architect early in the process and choose a CMS wisely (more on that in a moment).
Considering the many stakeholders we have mentioned above, what you are building is not just an ordinary website. It is more like a hub where service providers, journalists, agencies and photographers collaborate, share information and create new experiences for the visitors.
Basically, you need two highly integrated portals with very distinct types of users: one for the visitors, one for the businesses. Each with its own requirements, tooling and distinct user interface.
Moreover, the project typically requires a range of integrations (media server, booking server, CRM, social, analytics, marketing tooling, partner websites…) and presents content in several languages and scripts.
This has some technical implications.
The site's complexity can impact the performance, stability and security targets. Hence, the site's structure and the sizing must be approached with due diligence.
I am not going to favour any technology vendors or platforms. There is a wide range of options on the market to choose from. In my opinion it is far more important to employ an experienced architect early on and a capable development team with a track record of delivering solutions of similar scope and complexity.
To pick the right team ask your architect to prepare a functional specification that highlights:
- Project scope and functionalities
- Requirements (user, business, technical)
- The operating model
- Solution interaction with users and related systems
- Roles and accountabilities
This document should be part of your RFI. Ask potential vendors
- What Content Management System (CMS) they recommend and why. Them being familiar with a particular CMS solution can’t be a sufficient reason for buy-in.
- How would they approach multi language challenges, infrastructure sizing, security and safety, etc.
- Estimated timeline and costs
A content management platform is the heart of your future solution. As mentioned above, there are many quality solutions on the market. Which one is the best for you depends on your specific requirements.
Choose 1- 3 candidates and perform a fit-gap analysis. Considering your requirements ascertain what functions are covered out-of-the-box, which ones need additional adjustments and which ones require development from scratch.
While responsive design, security and privacy should be no brainers, there are specifics of a tourism website that CMS needs to support:
- Multi-language content management - are language versions organized as separate websites or can they be managed from one central repository? How are the assets structured? Do they allow grouping and tagging? How flexible is the solution in organizing top-level language domains?
- Multi-site management - your site can have babies. You may add a culinary portal or a separate camping website to highlight your best offering. Is the CMS headless, centrally organized, or will you have to produce a stand-alone website for each initiative? Is the CMS capable of producing any number of sites under one central umbrella?
- Users and editorial flows - How flexible is the user management? How are roles and permissions organized? Can you invite editors that are not in your organization and limit their roles to solely reflect their focus areas? Does the CMS support a multi-level editorial flow?
Make sure to adequately address these topics to assure the site’s future development and avoid administration overload.
So, in which stage of “design and development” journey are you in?
Are you preparing for a take-off or have you already seen results? I’d love to see your insights. If you miss some important aspect of tourism website design in the article, please let me know. I’ll see what I can do about it:)